School is out. Many will graduate. Hot days at the pool, lake or beach, warm nights cooking out, and a well-deserved vacation. Summer, the time of freedom is here.

FreedomFreedom. Just utter the word and Americans immediately stand proud. It has a ring too it, a sweetness of sound that only a free people can understand. And as free people we know that freedom isn’t free. It comes through and with sacrifice, some on our own and some on our behalf. Someone always pays the price for freedom.

Freedom is a word we throw around a lot but when analyzed few of us know what it means. We may be able to define the word but finding it’s meaning is challenging because freedom can mean so many things. A simple search of the word returns over 396 million hits. From schools and towns named freedom to Webster’s multiple definitions, freedom is a word that has varied definitions but perhaps one uniform meaning.

Today you’ll choose what you will have for lunch, and for some, you’ll choose nothing at all. You had freedom in lunch. Lunch wasn’t free, but you had the freedom to choose if you would have lunch, what you would have for lunch, and if you would pay the price for lunch. In this example you might conclude that freedom means choice. And sometimes it does.

However, let’s say you are gluten intolerant. You are at a meeting and non-gluten free pizza is being served. Your only choice is to eat and become ill or not to eat and be hungry. You still have a choice, but is this really freedom? By any definition this example at least limits freedom. Most definitions of freedom include “without confinement, coercion, or restraint”. This is why we must find the meaning and not just the definition of the word.

As I have come to understand the meaning of freedom, the best, all-encompassing meaning is that one has control. The extent of freedom you enjoy is directly attributable to the degree of control you have in a given situation. And for the most part we enjoy a great deal of freedom.

I cringe when I hear people say (myself included) “I have to go to work.” Think of all the wrong messages in that one line we recite all too often. The sacrifice of freedom indicated in that six-word sentence is evident. “Have to” means we wouldn’t choose to if we had a choice. Is that really true? What does that say about us? Are we willing slaves to our labor? Have we build lives of quiet desperation, purchasing our confinement by our financial dependence on work we “have to” do?

Sadly for many this is the case. They head off to work they never intended to do. Somehow they landed in this job they tolerate but wouldn’t do if they had a choice. That’s the way they see it; they have no choice.

Which brings us around to the meaning of freedom. Control. Ask any of those people who go to work because they “have to” and you’ll find they truly believe they have no choice. Upon further inspection however you’ll find they have chosen the life they lead willingly, without coercion, as a better option than the unknown alternative. In this way they may not realize it but they are in control. At any moment they could, given the need, change the work they are doing or and find something else to do. If they only understood their need they would pay the price to change. But they choose not to. They are in control.

They see themselves as the fly on the windowsill. Feverishly exhausting their efforts on a task at which they will never succeed. Freedom is just beyond the glass and yet the harder they try, the closer they come to losing their freedom and their lives. If only they would turn around and see the open door behind them, if they would just fly a bit higher and find the open window, they could enjoy the freedom their work has provided.

Of course there are those among us, far too many, who have no work. While it may not seem like it, this is a great time of freedom. In this moment they have the ability to clearly choose their path. While many will take whatever they can get and fall into the cycle again, some will break free and chart a new course, find fulfilling work, or even start their own business.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to have work, we should examine the choice we make each day to engage in it. A simple shift in our attitude toward the work we do can make a huge difference in our results. Fly a bit higher, or perhaps fly in a different direction. You are in control. And that is really what freedom is all about.