Retire. One of those words that has lost it’s original meaning and become something else entirely. 50 years ago, retirement meant at 65 or 70 your employer would put you out to pasture, give you a gold watch and a small pension and you would spend your days at your modest, but paid for, home, drink beer in a lawn chair on the porch and complain about the government (think Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino). In those days, your wife didn’t work and, therefore, didn’t need to retire.

Today retirement still conjures up those ideas, but to an increasing number of people it means something different. To some it means leaving your job when the 401K hits the magic number and traveling the world. Others it means taking a small pension and moving to Florida to play golf. Some work harder at volunteering than they ever did in their cooperate jobs and yet others drop out of the rat race at 35 move to Mendocino County, California, live in a commune and paint landscapes to sell to tourists.

The common denominator, however, is the practice of doing what you want, when you want. You might work for money in your retirement, but you do it because it makes you happy, not because you have to do it. It means living on your terms and more and more of us are doing it at a younger age. No, I don’t have any statistics, just anecdotal evidence. But it seems a lot of use are dissatisfied with the mainstream, corporate, keeping up with the Joneses, endless consumerism lifestyles that seem to be the norm in this society. I have nothing against all that, but it generally isn’t a satisfying as advertised. Sure, some of us discover a little niche and find happiness, but many of us don’t.

In my opinion, retirement is getting back to ourselves. Doing to the things that bring us happiness and satisfaction. Pursuing our passions. Discovering what we were really placed on this earth for. There is no one definition. We all carve out our own little piece of retirement. We live life on our own schedule and set our own priorities. Maybe retirement can be summed up in one word: Freedom.

But that still can’t define retirement. For some freedom is financially based. Others it is a spiritual pursuit. Maybe some define it as endless leisure. How about the freedom to volunteer for a cause you love? Or to write the great American novel. Spend time with your spouse. Learn to surf, speak French or live in Malaysia. Go back to school, start a second career or vow to never work for money again.

I guess the point is that retirement is what you make of it, makes you happy and brings contentment and satisfaction. It doesn’t happen when you reach a certain age or your financial advisor says you have enough money in your portfolio (likely never!). Its when you decide enough is enough and its time to discover the real you and follow your dreams. When you leave that job the 17 year old you thought would be cool and find the life the 40, 50 or 60 year old you thinks is cool. That, and so much more, is retirement.