My friend Ali Dark recently asked a circle of friends on Google+ if anyone felt he had made a difference in their life. He was feeling digitally suicidal, which meant that he wanted to delete his online identity and start from scratch. Here was my response:
You've made a difference in my life by being an example of someone who continues to push forward despite feeling unsure. You have a similar online personality as I do, someone who comes up with a great idea, thinks they've "got it down", and then charges full force down that path. It's only when you're half-way down the path and you look around and notice that nobody else is with you that you start doubting yourself.
It's a lot like hiking a big mountain: In the morning at the trailhead, there's lots of cars and other hikers preparing for the hike. You feel a sense of commonality, a sense of community. You're all there to hike this mountain. As you start hiking, you'll find lots of other hikers, either passing you or you passing them. Again, you feel a sense of community, a sense of shared struggle.
But eventually, the trail gets tougher and more narrow. It gets steeper and you start slowing down. As you start focusing on the path in front of you, you walk one step at a time. If you stop and look around, you'll notice there are no other hikers around, nobody passing you and nobody you're passing. On a straight part of the trail, you might look up and see others hikers struggling further up, or if you look down the trail you might see other hikers pushing through the part you've already passed.
It's in those lonely times when you need to remember why you started in the first place. It's then that you need to look inward and trust that your decision to hike this mountain was a decision you made for you, not for the other people who have their own struggles to deal with.
The closer you get to the summit of the mountain, the more hikers you start meeting. When you eventually make it to the top, it's crowded and you quietly exchange smiles and a sense of accomplishment with other hikers that you met earlier that morning. All of you know that you're there not because of each other, but because you all made it through the tough parts relying on nobody except yourself.
It's when the going gets tough that you need to ask yourself why you do what you do. If you're not sure you're on the right path, ask yourself if that unsureness comes from a lack of commitment or from an external distraction. You make a difference in the lives of others by making a difference in your own life. Are you making a difference in your own life, or are you doubting the difference you make?
It's OK to pause and take a break from your digital life. It's OK to change direction without asking for permission. Hikers on the trail stop and take a break all the time, but most of them get up and keep going up the trail. If you're always stopping and asking for someone to give you validation for continuing on, then you'll find yourself making little progress and being frustrated with every stop you make (as opposed to feeling refreshed and invigorated to continue).
These are the lessons I've learned and I share them with you because I think I understand exactly how you feel. For me, it was the realization that I was making zero forward progress by doubting myself and throwing everything away over and over that finally pushed me to adopt the mindset I have now. Now when I make changes, it feels like I'm simply making course corrections while continuing to move forward, instead of restarting my journey -- digital or otherwise -- from scratch.