I'm less interested in the ultimate philosophical definition of meaning than I am in a working definition that will let you consciously tap into the energy it has to offer. Here is my definition:
Meaning: The energy you feel when you are making an impact that has a positive charge for you.
So meaning is about making a difference that energizes you. It comes from focusing on an outcome you find compelling.
Meaning & work
When you think about it, all work is inherently about making some kind of difference. Something is different when you finish than it was when you started. That's why you get paid.
My work is about energy management, consciously making decisions that maximizes the energy gain and minimizes the energy drain. Since all work is inherently about making a difference, doesn't it make sense to figure out what kind of outcome has a charge for you?
Making a "personally meaningful difference"
All ways of making a difference are not created equal. Some ways to make an impact will have a positive charge for you, energizing you to work towards making that difference. Others, while you can see from an intellectual perspective that they make a difference, don't have that juice for you.
One way I describe this is making a "personally meaningful difference." A personally meaningful difference is the kind of difference you feel compelled to work towards, that draws you forward.Tapping into that source of personal meaning is another source of energy we can put into success. You're aiming your efforts at an outcome that it inspires you. You want to do it, not just because it’s fun, but also because it’s important. It pulls you forward.
You don't have to join the Peace Corps
So often when I bring up the idea of making a difference, people respond with some version of, "Sure, it sounds good, but I'm just not interested in ______________." They usually fill in that blank with some stereotypical version of making a difference, like joining the Peace Corps, or feeding the homeless and hungry.
While those things may be meaningful, they aren't necessarily personally meaningful. We're all wired in different ways. What’s important here is what feels meaningful specifically to you. Forget the stereotypes. Of all the bazillion ways to make a positive impact in this world, what kinds of things are you drawn to? What feels important? What would feed that feeling of gratification? When it's all said and done, what would you look back on and be glad you did?