Since I seem to be so fond of nautical imagery, we'll start like this:
Lately, I've been adrift without paddles- a little canoe in a big, angry ocean. I don't do well in boats, so all this weather instability has got me fairly queasy with questions like, "What am I supposed to be doing?" and "What is going on?!" Floating blind through a fog bank, I heard a hope and helpful horn in the distance. Then a bright light house beam cut through the confusion and I found some solid ground to stand on after months of aimlessness.
What really happened was: I've begun to take the good advice that I give other people and in doing so made a decision about the direction of my life. I haven't worked the details out yet, but, encouraged by Oprah and Steve Jobs, I am less concerned with failing and way more concerned about staying in this literal and figurative fog. I got on craigslist and found a really neat job where I can see myself being happy and challenged. In preparing my resume and writing the cover letter I realized, "Damn! I am pretty useful! Look at all this cool shit that I've done. I think I might be kind of awesome."
Dude, I am awesome! I directed a teen leadership summer camp program when I was still a teenager! I comforted and lovingly confronted hurting souls on a suicide crisis line every Friday for over a year! I taught college classes before I even finished my BA! The next time I feel like I haven't made a difference in the world, I'll just reread my resume and remember how many people have benefited from my existence. Hoooray! I am worthwhile!
Of course, professional accomplishment doesn't necessarily make for a "successful" life. Today, to me "success" means living well holistically- healthy relationships, healthy body, healthy mind. If your career is kickin' but you never see your family or the inside of a gym (or yoga studio!), there's no balance. Sometimes an overflow in one area of our lives leads to deficiencies in the other areas, but we work to keep bringing everything back to equilibrium. That way our life has the richness and depth that it lacks when all we do is work (or sleep til noon every day for six months, ahem).
Anyway...what I think I might be getting at is this: when you feel down, like you've never done anything contributory, look at all the energy you've put out into the world. Maybe your contribution is a poem, or a really good joke, or just listening to a friend, or being nice to your harried bus driver...these are all gifts you can give. You don't have to do anything particularly impressive or spectacular to contribute: just be kind. And if you're really feeling dissatisfied with the mark you've made thus far, do something about it! There are organizations all over that rely on volunteer help. Or you could just give out free hugs. Or find a cure for AIDS...no pressure.
This is the point where someone else might give you that Gandhi 'be the change' quote that is so grossly over quoted that I can no longer suppress an eye roll when I hear it. Instead I'll give you another overly quoted quote that I like better from Rumi:
"Let the beauty we love be what we do. / There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
This comes from a longer, very beautiful poem, and it always baffles me that the second part is never included. Not only does this encourage you to do what you love in life, but it assures you that whatever that is will be a contribution. You don't have to be a doctor or something else traditionally considered "important"- just do what you love. Make it an offering and you will make a difference to someone, somewhere. Our ripples reach much farther than we can imagine.
One more quote...
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." -Howard Thurman, who, among other things, was deeply influential in the civil right movement, and founded the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States in San Francisco. Thanks for doing what you loved, Mr. Thurman!