She thought she did everything right.

Her parents told her exactly what she needed to do: get good grades, volunteer a lot, find her internships. When the real world began as an entry-level developer, she had more expendable income than she knew what to do with.

The days fell into a pattern. Weekdays were work, gym, and Netflix. Weekends were happy hours and trips out of the city. People around her seemed content, and sometimes she was, too. But she could not shake the feeling of emptiness, that something was missing.

She told herself she should be grateful. Other people told her to be grateful. Other people told her they would kill to be in her position.

She could appreciate the times she’s out with friends, hanging out with family, and creating good memories. What she couldn’t appreciate was the moments she spent with herself alone. Where she looked within, and found nothing.

It was 2014 when she stood on a ledge. She took a deep breath. She did everything right, but it did not satisfy her. It didn’t remove that feeling. it all felt meaningless.

She spent the rest of the night staring at clean pavement, her eyes glossed over with sleep deprivation.

… And she recognized, maybe she would do it. She could see herself doing it. But only after a full night’s rest.

Secretly, she realized she didn’t want to give up just yet. The answer felt close.

There is an expectation of what we need to do to find success. We need to study, go to college, become smarter and better, to outposition our peers and land a real job. For some, the pursuit is all we know. We become good at meeting the expectations, and there is a rush that comes from a job well done.

We get good at doing things right.

For some of us, this may be enough. We can relish in a job — any job — that is well done. We can find meaning in overcoming challenges, solving puzzles, and creatively managing finite resources to do the improbable.

But, maybe we don’t find that meaning. Maybe we tell ourselves we should be happy, and that we should be grateful after all we have accomplished. But it doesn’t help. We are simply unsatisfied with life.

Perhaps we can find out why we feel this way, by looking at it like a business.

Managers Vs. Executives

In business, there’s a cliche about managers and executives.

Managers are good at doing things right — they can efficiently manage a process and get things done.

Executives are good at doing the right things — knowing why to have a goal, and having the vision to aim at it.

Any good business has people good at both. Executives know the important things for an organization to do, and spend most of their time continuing to know. They are great at seeing the horizon and re-prioritizing to satisfy the primary objective: to make more money.

Knowing that they need to work towards something says nothing about actually doing it. So the executives hire managers. Managers don’t need to see all that. They need to be damn good at putting it all into practice. So they are. They are very good at doing things.

This is just like our brains.

Doing Things Right, Versus Doing the Right Things

There’s a difference between doing things right, and doing the right things.

Doing Things Right means that you are good at what you do. You know how to do things optimally. You are efficient.

In business, that means that you’re good at doing things, regardless of whether they impact your goal. You know how to do a thing.

Doing The Right Things means that what you do is congruent with your goals. You are effective.

In business, this means that you’re making progress towards the right goal. You know why to do a thing.

Let’s apply our lives to the business example. If our brains were a business, they would have a single employee: ourselves.

Like managers, we manage out day-to-day activity. We learn how to do things right. We learn how to get things done. But we’re so far in the trenches of doing things, that we never pause to understand why we do them. We have goals set by external stakeholders (our parents, our friends, our peers, our competition, our culture), but they don’t know what goals satisfy our primary objective.

That objective is living a satisfying life.

Beware: do not confuse this with the “expectations of a satisfying life”. If you find little joy in reckless hedonism, accumulating excess wealth, or becoming a Zen master, then don’t. Do enough, but don’t make it your primary focus.

Living a satisfying life means that you’re doing things that satisfy you — maybe it was one of those three things. But if it’s saving shelter animal lives, being a compassionate person, or just doing your best work consistently? Then do those.

As self-CEO, your objective is to live satisfied. What goals do you set to get there? What actions do you assign to your managers?

What actions will you change?

What We Should Know

When we think that the expectations set out for us are the only path, we set ourselves up for failure.

Your objective is your own satisfaction. What creates a satisfied life is seeing growth towards these goals, not just satisfying the expectations of others.

Now, we can do things right for the wrong reason. Or we can do the right things poorly. Both reduce our ability to life the satisfied life.

There are 2 questions to ask yourself:

1) Are you working towards your own goals? Or are you striving for someone else’s goals because you haven’t considered it? If  you’re unsatisfied with what you’re doing, it’s time to re-examine your goals. What would satisfy you?

Think small at first. This isn’t a call for you to quit your job to become a professional yogi. But, at the same time, maybe it is. Think small to start. If you’ve always wanted to start a hobby, or change a bad habit, then prioritize your time to do it. If you’re busy, make a little time (and if you don’t believe you have time to explore your own happiness, what else could you have time for)? Find time to reflect, then do the right things. Make progress.

2) If you’re working towards the right goals, are you good at it? When you’re on target, are you doing everything you can to improve? You need to do things right and see progress before it truly satisfies you. Put in the work, take small steps that become big steps, and enjoy the mechanisms of the process.

In the end, your happiness leads to the happiness of others. To do this, your life should be congruent with your goals. Whether you are happy with just the job well done, or you seek something more fulfilling, take the time to know.

Because nothing is more important than our happiness.