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When we have lots of ideas but we’re not sure which project to focus on, a good question to ask is, What is meaningful?

There might be a rainbow of things you could do. Fun ideas, interesting opportunities, exciting things to learn. But without meaning, over time we can get scattered.

If I spend too much time on sparkly things, for example, or if I’m trying too hard to please people, I begin to feel hollow. If I go on too long like this, I sense I could break with a good shove, or be lofted away by a sudden wind.

On the other hand, meaningful activities ground me. When I work on what matters to me, I feel strong and solid. The work might be challenging, but the sense of purpose sustains me. Fun is the candy. Meaning is the protein.

How do we find creative projects that are meaningful? Eric Maisel, my teacher and author of Creativity for Life, uses words like deep, rich, and passionate to get at meaning, suggesting we ask questions such as, "What deep work would I like to do?"

For me, a mixture of excitement and risk is a signal that I have touched something meaningful. My soul longs to express itself, but the ego fears rejection. And it’s all too easy to let this fear take over.

Sometimes a sense of urgency helps bring out meaning. When we’re feeling confused, a question like this can make things clearer: "When I’m lying on my death bed, what would I be sad that I didn’t do?"

This question reminds me of the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, a list compiled by palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware after spending years with people in their last days. She found that the single most common regret was: "I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

Finding what matters — and believing that we ourselves matter — can guide and sustain us, even when it feels easier to give up.

What sustains you?

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