The processes that underlie ability emotional intelligence (EI) are barely understood, despite decades of management research. Furthermore, the outcomes of these processes have been narrowly and prescriptively defined. To address this deficiency, I conducted a phenomenological study (n = 26). Findings from a public sector sample suggest that the underlying emotional processes of meaningful life events are – at least for now – better defined through the construct of emotion regulation. While it is part of the ability EI model, the emotional processing that occurs prior to emotion regulation being initiated is likely to be less consistent with current EI theory. Likewise, these processes lead to outcomes considerably more nuanced than currently appreciated in the EI literature. Consequently, what started as a gap-filling approach to research eventually turned into a problematization of what scholars seem to know about EI. I outline the theoretical and practical implications of this study for management, and offer suggestions for future research.