THE BLOG
02/11/2014 03:57 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2014

Do What You Love and Change the World

I write a lot about how we are at our best when we are doing what we love.

Each week I receive emails from people who want to live this way but feel stuck.

Here's an example from my inbox:

I want to start over... I've had a successful career but I want more. I want to be overflowing with joy, living abundantly, giving because I can. I feel like a little kid with everything yet to come.

Have you ever felt this way? Most of us have.

We want something more and are excited about the possibilities. But we don't know what it looks like or how to get there.

We've hit a wall.

If you're in this place, there are a few things you can do right now to start moving forward.

Go back to the beginning.
Start by asking yourself, "Who am I?" It's a simple question but one few of us ask amid the hustle and bustle of life. As a result, we go through life without much guidance, either responding to the expectations of others or by the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves. Neither of which is healthy or effective.

Years ago, as a newly minted Ph.D. with an ambitious research agenda, I found myself day after day alone in my university office analyzing data and writing articles very few people would read.

I felt dissatisfied but kept laboring on since that's what professors and researchers do. Or so I thought.

My mentor at the time suggested I ask myself two questions, both of which radically refocused my approach to life and work.

The first was, "What are my core values, my essential beliefs about living and working? The second was, "What is most important to me, where do I spend my time and energy?"

Answering these questions, I learned that I value human connection and like to contribute not only to a conversation but also to the lives of other people. I also love discovery and adventure -- doing things and going places where no one has gone before.

I discovered who I am.

At that point I knew I needed to make a change. Being an "expert" wasn't enough. I needed to use what I know to make a positive difference in the world.

If you find yourself at a crossroads in life, I encourage you to ask the same questions I asked myself. "What motivates me? What are my values (here's a list of words to help get you started)? And what do I value most?" Possibilities include relationships, success, financial security, fame, family, and so forth. The list is endless.

As you reflect on these, be honest with yourself. Only by living true to your values, can you live true to yourself. And after all, no one else but you gets to live your life.

Keep in mind that what you value may change over time as you encounter new experiences and influences. Revisiting these questions frequently will help keep you on track.

Discover you passion thread.
I've talked about this before, but it bears repeating -- your passion is discovered in your experiences, in the moment-by-moment unfolding of life.

We spend at least five days a week working, so it is likely you'll discover your passion there. But you can also discover what you deeply desire elsewhere, in other areas of your life, such as in the community, your place of worship, your hobbies, travel, and so forth.

Reflecting on your past experiences can also reveal to you what you cannot live without.

Here's how:

First, think about the most meaningful experiences in your life, those times when you felt the greatest personal satisfaction, where you felt most alive and energized.

Next, write down what made each experience so significant. What makes you want to experience it again and again? At work, what kinds of positions or assignments do you gravitate to? Why? Outside of work, where do you want to focus your energy?

As you reflect, look for a theme or themes that link all of your experiences together, a common denominator if you will. This is what I call your passion thread -- the various chapters and experiences in your life that when connected together, give you meaning.

Where's your impact?
If you still feel like something is missing in your life, ask yourself, "What am I doing for other people? Mahatma Gandhi said, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." Pursuing our passion is only satisfying when it's tied to something greater than ourselves.

Research is overwhelming on this. We are at our best and experience the greatest satisfaction when we make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Gandhi and countless others exemplify this.

A friend of mine recently posted the following status update on her Facebook wall. It captures beautifully what happens when we give back.

I'm feeling SUPER happy right now.

I just got home from my first day volunteering with the YMCA youth outreach program, teaching cooking and nutrition. These kids can't afford after school care and no one at home to help with homework.

Many have to take care of siblings while parents are at work, and they are just in elementary school.

This was the most rewarding thing I've done in years and I learned so much today!! Wednesdays are the new highlight of my workweek.

If you want to start living an extraordinary life, make a positive difference in the life of just one person. When you do this, something amazing happens.

You gain a deeper understanding of who you are and the fulfillment of knowing that you've helped make one small corner of the world a better place.

If we all practiced living true to ourselves in the service of others, we'd end doing up what we love. And in the process, we'd change the world.

Dr. Frank Niles is a social and behavioral scientist, adventure athlete, coach, and speaker. Learn more about Frank at frankniles.com and scholarexecutive.com.