Optimizing Your Life for Meaning vs Optimizing it for Metrics

Towards the end of 2018, I was miserable, depressed, and hopeless.

  • A good friend of mine had drowned in Mexico.
  • The woman I was seeing broke up with me two weeks before my 40th birthday and my business partner and I parted ways.
  • The Launch of An Audience of One had failed to live up to my expectations. Ironically, letting go of your expectations was one of the primary messages of the book.

Every single time I got back up after falling, it felt like life punched me in the face and knocked me back down. By every criterion for success I had set for myself, I was failing. I found myself in tears at the dinner table at my parents’ house, unable to explain to my dad why my life was falling apart while my sister was happily engaged and planning a wedding.

Even after ditching society’s school-to-career-ladder life plan (the theme of my first book), I still sought validation externally. I replaced big houses and fancy cars with a desire for heavily trafficked websites and best-selling books. I substituted a prestigious job and a steady paycheck with building an entrepreneurial empire.

Instead of optimizing my life for enough, it was all about more. More money, more prestige, more status. I was living my life for goals I’d yet to achieve, living in the future, and denying myself the joy of the present. I was trapped in a prison of conditional happiness, stuck in an eternal gap between who I was and who I wanted to be, failing to see I was headed to a destination that didn’t even exist.

I was living a metrics-driven life and instead of a meaning driven life. Something needed to change.

Outside markers of success were making me miserable. I started thinking about all the energy we spend trying to optimize our lives for arbitrary metrics.

  • We hashtag our Instagram posts to get more likes.
  • We measure our self-worth with quantifiable metrics like the size of our audience and the balance in our bank account.
  • And we set goals to increase our income, lose a certain amount of weight, etc.

Yet, this rarely leads to the fulfillment we think it will. At any given moment you can choose to live a metrics-driven life or a meaning-driven life.

You can optimize your life for metrics or design it for meaning. How you measure your life will have a profound impact on your happiness and well-being.

The Metrics-Driven Life

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meaning
Photographer: Alex Chambers | Source: Unsplash

There is no end zone. To think of a number is to live in a conditional future. — Ryan Holiday

Throughout your life, you are choosing between metrics and meaning. The metrics-driven life is about numbers:

  • How many followers do you have?
  • How much money did you earn?
  • How many books did you sell?
  • How boxes did you check?

In a metrics-driven life, you value profit over purpose and ego over humility. You confuse attention with accomplishment and celebrate meaningless moments like reaching 100,000 followers on Instagram.

The phrase “I’ll be happy when” becomes your predominant internal narrative.

A metrics-driven life is a finite game, with only two possibilities: win or lose. The only definition of enough is more. You chase false horizons only to arrive at dead ends.

The metrics-driven life is about status, while a meaning-driven life is about likability. If you’re an asshole with an impressive resume or a million followers, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re still an asshole.

The Meaning Driven Life

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Photographer: Austin Schmid | Source: Unsplash

When I was in the eighth grade, I played on a basketball team that lost every single game. The most memorable game was one we lost 48–7. Scoring of 2 of those 7 points was the highlight of my basketball career. I threw up a reverse hook from close to the 3-point line that made my coach question my sanity and by some miracle, it went in.

Let’s be honest. The score of that game is laughable to anyone who has ever played on a basketball team. And it looks more like the score of a football game.

Even though our team was terrible, it was one of the most meaningful experiences I had in junior high. Between a hilarious coach, long bus rides, and sharing some great laughs with a friend who eventually became the valedictorian of our high school, I still look back at the season over 30 years later and can’t help but smile.

After losing our final game, one of our teammates stormed out of the locker room in a fit of rage because he was so upset about our losing record. Knowing that basketball stardom wasn’t in my future, I played for the love of the game. And he was only playing to win.

For him, it was about metrics and for me, it was about meaning.

In a meaning-driven life, you stop asking how much or how many. Instead, you ask why, what matters, and how you can make a difference. Your work becomes a labor of love instead of something you do solely for the fruits of that labor.

A metrics-driven life is about success on other people’s terms, while a meaning-driven life is about success on our own terms. It’s about having enough rather than seeking more, being grateful for what we have rather than longing for what we don’t.

Instead of playing just to win, you play for the love of the game.

What Matters at the end of Your Life

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Photographer: Peter F. Wolf | Source: Unsplash

When you take your final breath, nobody will give a shit how many followers you had, how many books you sold, how much money you have in the bank, or how impressive your resume was. Walk through a cemetery, look at a tombstone, read an obituary, or listen to someone’s eulogy. Nobody mentions metrics.

What they mention is a person’s character, the difference they made, the people they loved, and the ones that loved them back.

What will people say in your eulogy or write on your tombstone? Were you cruel or kind? Generous or greedy? How many hearts did you touch? Will they, in the words of Seth Godin, “Miss you when you’re gone?” What will be your legacy?

It doesn’t matter if you change the world or the lives of a few people closest to you. The metrics-driven life is about currency, while a meaning-driven life is about legacy. And you change the world and the lives of the people closest to you just by being here.

Society might measure our lives with quantifiable metrics, but it doesn’t mean you should too. Lasting fulfillment comes from meaning, not metrics. The next level of success is an illusion.

How will you measure your life?

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