Don’t Follow Your Passion When You Pick a Career, with Grace Lee

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Have you ever heard that to find the job of your dreams, you should follow your passion? The reality is not all passions lend themselves to a career, and not everyone has passions to follow. Instead of trying to figure out your passion so that you can be happy at work, Find Your Dream Job guest Grace Lee says it’s a better idea to pursue meaningful purpose. Stop hoping to find your perfect career; take charge of your future by digging deep into what drives you and creating your own opportunities.

About Our Guest:

Dr. Grace Lee is the host of the Career Revisionist Podcast and founder of Mastery Insights, a coaching and education company. She is on a mission to unleash the extraordinary in the world through insightful career development, integrating neuroscience and business development principles.

Resources in This Episode:

  • For more insights into building your career, listen to Grace’s podcast, Career Revisionist


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 214:

Don’t Follow Your Passion When You Pick a Career, with Grace Lee

Airdate: October 23, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m Mac Prichard, the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps people find fulfilling careers.

Every week, I interview a career expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.

How many times has somebody said this to you?

“Follow your passion and the money will come.”

Our guest today says this is terrible advice. Especially when you choose a career.

Here to talk about this is Grace Lee. She’s the founder of Mastery Insights. It’s a coaching and education company. Grace also hosts the Career Revisionist podcast.

She joins us today from the city of Richmond in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

Why do you tell people not to follow their passion when choosing a career, Grace?

Grace Lee:

Well, the fact is, not everyone has a passion.

And here’s the thing, I mean, most people go out searching for their passion and they do the, “Eat, Pray, Love” thing and they might do some traveling, meet with some people, and they’re just stuck, and they’re like, “I don’t think I’m passionate about anything.” And they feel like something’s wrong, that they haven’t searched the right way or anything but it’s okay.

Not everyone has a passion, so it’s okay if that’s you. You can breathe a sigh of relief because if you’ve been searching for your passion for some time now and you can’t seem to find it, it’s normal and it’s okay.

On the other side of the coin, there are certain times when you have a lot of passions or interests, and sometimes it doesn’t make sense to really turn those passions into a career.

Mac Prichard:

Don’t you need passion to get the most competitive jobs, and doesn’t it take that kind of drive?

Grace Lee:

It takes drive but the drive comes from commitment. It comes from a resolve to be better, it comes from a resolve to continue with personal development, and it comes from the ethical choice of saying, “I’m going to show up and do my best to do my best work.”

The passion can be the passion to do your best work and the passion to have personal development in your career journey but having a passion about some thing doesn’t lead to a fulfilling career.

Mac Prichard:

So why do people keep telling us, Grace, to follow our passion?

Grace Lee:

Well, it’s a misconception that passion is the only thing that is the key ingredient to finding a fulfilling career, because of the connection between passion and being able to find something that you love so much that it just puts you in that state of flow, where time just feels like it’s passing you by.

But the thing we don’t realize is that passions are not something that is stable over time. I mean, there’s evidence that you have a passion about one thing, and a couple of months later or maybe next year, your passions change with the wind, so it’s not a very stable thing to build your career on.

Which is also why choosing passion can be the source of a lot of pain and suffering in your career if your chosen career path was guided only by your passion right from the start.

Mac Prichard:

What do you see happen to people who follow this advice, “follow your passion,” when picking a career?

Grace Lee:

Usually, what I’ve seen is that what ends up happening is, they decide on, “Well, I think I’ve identified this as my passion;” for example…and I’ll use the example of traveling. I’m very passionate about traveling, and most of our passions are really born from subjective biases and perceptions that people have about the world immediately around us.

So if you have a passion for traveling and you kind of want to incorporate a career path that involves a lot of travel, most often what happens is that we’re so engrossed in that, we need to choose our passion, that’s the ingredient that we need, and then we choose an occupation that involves, for example, frequent travel around the world. And it seems appealing, it feels very exciting, and then what ends up happening is we experience a lack of fulfillment because we didn’t think about the inconveniences, or the health impacts of dealing with jetlag, or feeling that traveling so much is not…it seemed like the grass was greener on that side, but when you go to experience it, it doesn’t seem that way when it actually becomes a reality.

Mac Prichard:

We all know people who say, “I get paid to do what I love.” Are they acting on their passion, Grace, or is there something else at play here?

Grace Lee:

There’s definitely something else at play. If you’re doing work you love, chances are, if you ask the same person who says, “I’m doing work that I love,” or “I love what I do,” if you ask them, “Are you making a contribution? A meaningful contribution? A contribution that’s meaningful to you?” Chances are that they would say yes. It’s a meaningful contribution and they know it, and they’re clear about it, that what they do matters.

Mac Prichard:

Talk to us about the difference between understanding making a contribution, and acting on your passion.

Grace Lee:

Right, so when you are acting on your passion…a passion, the definition of a passion is just simply strong and these barely controlled emotions, right? They’re like knee-jerk reflex behaviors. So, passions, in and of themselves, are ignited by that part of our brain, the emotional part of our brain, where it’s kind of impulsive, more impulsive, and they’re not intuitive, so they don’t have an intuitive or an inspired direction, or any objective reason to it.

So, it’s like, if you’re pursuing that, it’s not something that’s intuitive, it’s not inspiring, and it doesn’t have a reason behind it. So, in that sense, your passions can change. Your passions can change but you’re following your passion; it doesn’t mean that you feel like it has a meaningful purpose.

But when you’re using that part of your brain, the executive centers, the part right behind your forehead, if you’re using that and you’re pursuing meaningful purpose, then you are having this extra filter of what’s meaningful to you, what’s purposeful to you, and what is your calling.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about that foundation, because you mentioned what drives passion, emotion, and other similar emotions and feelings. When you talk about building a foundation for a long term career, that’s a different set of skills and qualities that you’re drawing on, isn’t it?

Grace Lee:

Yes, absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

How can people get in touch with that different set of feelings or qualities, and navigate those feelings because, you know, passions are powerful things, and sometimes, I think people get overwhelmed by them when picking a career. How can you navigate that, Grace, and choose work that is going to be more sustainable and satisfying?

Grace Lee:

Right. The answer to that…so, I mentioned that the ingredient is not passion, but the answer to that is pursuing meaningful purpose. Because while passion is driven by intensity and emotion, purpose is driven by reason. It’s not that you’re bypassing the emotional centers of your brain; it just means that you are putting reason first. So, there’s a lot of performance studies out there that show that if you want to sustain that motivation in weathering the storm of the challenges of your career path, you need to have that urgency, you need to have your reasons. “Why” comes first. Simon Sinek said it best, “Start with your why.”

When you know your “why,” that’s how you weather the storm of all the emotions, of all the intensity of uncontrollable emotions that come with weathering the storm, and the way to do that, the way to get clear on, “What is meaningful purpose?” is to understand what are your highest values.

Mac Prichard:

You start with your values to get clear about your purpose, your “why.” Take us through that. How does that work, Grace?

Grace Lee:

Right, so when I say your values, it’s really tricky because a lot of people use the terms “values” and “preferences” interchangeably, although they may not realize it. When I ask someone, “What are your values?”, most often I’ll have people say, “Well, I value honesty, I value integrity, or I value authenticity.”

And these things are all great to have, values, these are all great values, but sometimes what they’re listing are just social idealisms and they’re not actually their true values.

When I take someone through the process of, “You’ve got to figure out what your true values are.” Their values at the end of the day, when behind closed doors, it’s what you act upon and you tend to those values.

Mac Prichard:

How do you come up with that shortlist, Grace? Because many of the values that you mentioned are…everyone will say, “Yes, those are important to me.” But we have so many different listeners and everyone is unique. How do people get clear about their own values that are most important?

Grace Lee:

Yeah, it requires a lot of introspection and being brutally honest with the actions you’ve been taking, the decisions you’ve been making. I’ll give you an example.

I’ve talked to, for example, someone who would say that, “I value honesty at work. So, I don’t want to cheat my boss, and I want to make sure I’m there at work, and I don’t cheat my boss of the time that I’m expected to be at work.”

And yet, they say this is their value, but when you look at their actions and they’re brutally honest with you, they look for every way that they can come home just a little bit earlier to be with their family.

It’s a social idealism to have integrity and honesty at work, but their actions, everything about them, is saying, “I just want to be home with my family. I don’t want to work overtime, I don’t want to work any harder. I just want to be with my family.” And so those are their true values, it’s time with family.

Mac Prichard:

So pay attention to what you do, not necessarily what you say or think, in terms of ideals.

Grace Lee:

Exactly, pay attention to what you do and how you feel as you’re doing it. And so, oftentimes when you pay attention to what you say, what you say is influenced by your surroundings as well. So, oftentimes our…what we feel, what we say, and what we believe are our values, are actually values that have been injected upon us through someone else. Our parents, our teachers, or some authority out there.

Mac Prichard:

I want to be as practical as possible, so make that list of values informed by how you spend your time, the actions you take. What’s the next step, Grace?

Grace Lee:

Then the next step is, when you’re truthful to yourself, brutally honest to yourself, not worrying about what other people think of you, because oftentimes we don’t connect with our true values because of what other people think; so, when you give yourself that permission to explore and be introspective, and you look at, “Where am I spending most of my time? What am I spending most of my time thinking about? At the end of the day, what do I desire most?” And making a shortlist of what those values are. “How have I been behaving? Is it contradictory to what I tell people I value?”

When you give yourself that permission, you make that shortlist, then it’s about, “How does my career path align with my highest values?”

Mac Prichard:

Okay, I want to dig into this. We’re going to take a break and when we return, we’ll continue our conversation with Grace Lee about why you don’t want to follow your passion when you pick a career.

When my phone at the Mac’s List office rings, I pick it up.

The job seekers who call sound surprised when I answer. But I’m surprised by how few people contact me.

When I do get a call, it’s often a question about a salary negotiation.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

Mac Prichard:

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Grace Lee.

Our topic is why you don’t want to follow your passion when you pick a career.

Grace, I just want to reaffirm that when a listener is thinking, “Oh my gosh, if I don’t follow my passion that means I’m going to have to settle for a dull job or even a career I hate.” And that’s not true, is it?

Grace Lee:

No, it’s not true.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and the process for getting there is being clear about your values and looking at what matters to you, how you spend your time, the actions you take. What are other steps that people should take when getting clear about picking a career and not paying attention to passion alone?

Grace Lee:

Right, it’s being clear about why you do the things that you do. And this is where principles of neuroscience really come into play, because all of our actions, every single thing that we do or decide not to do, it’s a decision and we do things only because we feel like it.

Everything that we do or don’t do is because we feel like it or we don’t feel like it. It’s based on a feeling and so, drivers for our actions are based on things that we feel comfortable or things that we feel repelled by. So those provide clues as to why we do the things that we do and even when we realize we should do something, why we haven’t been doing it. Or why we’ve been putting it off, or we’re procrastinating on it, or we’re feeling stuck in this job, and why we’re not doing something about it.

What is that driver behind our inaction or our action? So, I always impress upon folks to be clear on what are the drivers? Why do we do the things that we do? And usually, it’s chalked down to fundamental needs, fundamental human needs.

Mac Prichard:

Tell us more about those drivers and let’s turn that idea into something that is practical that people can apply as they consider a career. Perhaps either choosing one right after college or making a mid-career switch. What drivers should people…what do you mean when you say drivers, Grace? And how can people apply that?

Grace Lee:

Yeah, absolutely, so I mentioned that our actions are driven by our feelings, right? The emotions we have go right down to our inner yearnings, our deep yearnings, and these are natural but the yearnings we have are because we have fundamental needs.

So, if we feel fearful, if we feel fearful of the unknown, we feel fearful of making this decision, there’s a reason why behind that. Simply being fearful of something is not going deep enough. So, I always say, “Well, the way to get down to that core, to diagnose the reason why you’re making that choice or not making that choice, is to ask why five times.”

“Why am I fearful?”

And then your answer might be, “Well, I’m scared of what other people think.”

Then you ask why again, “Why am I scared about what people think?”

And then it could come down to, “Because I’ve been bullied in high school.” Or, “I’ve been bullied before.”

And then you just keep asking why five times until you get to the core of it. But what I tend to find is that it actually boils down to fundamental human needs. Sometimes you’re fearful of something because you have a need for having a great amount of certainty and predictability in your life. Or it could be because you need the opposite. You want to have variety and you want to have fun.

Mac Prichard:

How do you do that analysis? Because those are hard questions to ask, and the issues that surface in the example you gave, for example, are painful. How do people go through that successfully and apply it to a career switch or a job search?

Grace Lee:

Yeah, absolutely, I understand. It is painful and it’s…introspection requires asking the right questions, right? So I’m a firm believer that all the problems we have in our career path are just questions that we’ve never asked. So, a problem is just a question that was never asked. So, if you ask the right questions, because all throughout education, all throughout formal education, we’re taught that we need to come up with the answers, right? But the real wisdom and real insight comes from finding the right questions. So, it’s about asking us…if you ask a question, you get an answer, and if you ask a different question you have a completely different outcome.

Mac Prichard:

How do you get clear about the right questions to ask? You mentioned “why” to start, but there are an infinite number of possible questions. Which ones are going to be most effective in people who are looking at their career or a job search?

Grace Lee:

Right, so questions that start with “how-to” are good for initiating a research-driven, evidence-based action. So, I always tend to how-to questions and to avoid statements like, “I can’t.” Because words are really powerful, words are really powerful, so it’s good to choose words that are empowering but it comes down from an intent.

First, you have to set the intent to be committed to your career path, to be committed to achieving your milestones or your goals, and you have to have that resolve inside of you. And that is the first thing, that is the internal positioning that comes first.

And once you have that in place, then it’s about, “Okay, I have these certain milestones that I want to achieve.” Then it’s about, “How do I get there? What are my blind spots that I’m not seeing? What are my roadblocks and how do I overcome these roadblocks?” And it’s really, really important, also, to have a coach alongside of you, or a mentor as well, to help you to deduce…but through questioning and through getting to know you, they’re able to deduce some answers from you by asking key questions that maybe you’ve never thought of.

Mac Prichard:

We started out talking about passion and you made the point that purpose is the better way to get clear about the career you want. Talk to us about purpose, and why it matters so much, and how a listener can get clear about it.

Grace Lee:

If you know your purpose, it will give you direction and it’s going to inspire you. Unlike passion, meaningful purpose, it does not change so frequently. It doesn’t change with the wind because meaningful purpose is more steady and it’s more stable and it’s safe, therefore, to base your career pursuits upon that because it provides you with the objective reason of why you do what you do. So, that’s why it’s important.

Your reasons always come before attaining career success, going back to your “why,” your reasons always come first. When you have your reasons, you have your sense of urgency, and therefore, the resolve will follow.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s get practical, how do people go through this process and come up with a statement and their purpose?

Grace Lee:

There are four basic questions that I like to ask and one of them is like, the first question is like, “What am I good at? What am I really good at doing?”

And the second question is, “What can I get paid for? What can I turn into a career?” Because we’re not talking about hobbies here. We’re talking about making a living. Let’s get real, a career is for making a living, so you’re asking yourself, “What am I good at that I can get paid for?”

And then the third kind of element into is kind of like, this is where the meaning comes in. You’re asking, “What does my industry or my marketplace need from me? What do they need?” So, you know what your offer is because you know what you’re good at, and you can get paid for it, then it’s your industry. Your industry’s marketplace, what do they need?

Then the fourth one, so, “What are you good at? Does the marketplace need it? Can I get paid for it?” And also to look at the sustainability.

Mac Prichard:

Talk about sustainability because the first three, I think, are subjects that come up a lot. People do need to understand an employer’s problem, and they do need to be clear about what they offer in terms of skills and understand their strengths. How does sustainability…what do you mean when you say sustainability, Grace, and how can people make that happen?

Grace Lee:

Absolutely. So one thing that is inevitable is that the future of work is changing, right? One thing that is constant, the only thing that is constant, is that there’s this accelerating pace of change in work and the future of work is going to look so different than it does now. It already has, and it started with the information age, so if we want sustainability, what that means is, how do you make sure that you stay relevant over time?

Because at the end of the day, if you ask most people, the number one regret is that they didn’t live life true to themselves, and people want to leave behind a legacy. People want to leave behind their message because that’s real…the meaning comes from that.

When you look back on your life and you say, “Yes, I have had a contribution in this world. Yes, I have made a difference to people. Yes, I have helped a certain group of people.” So, that’s where meaningfulness comes in. And so, if you’re looking in terms of sustainability, it’s like, “How can I ensure that I will stay relevant as careers are changing, as the world of work, the future of work is changing? How can I ensure that I continue to make these contributions and be able to make a living as well.”

Mac Prichard:

How do people do that? How do they stay relevant?

Grace Lee:

Right, so if you look at the trend, one thing that is like, I mean, there are going to be recessions, that’s inevitable. There are going to be layoffs, that is inevitable. There are going to be big companies swallowing up smaller companies, that is inevitable.

But one thing that all companies have in common is that they need to make revenue. They need to make sales and make revenue because companies are there for profit. Of course, you have nonprofits but they also need money to survive as well, right? So, if there is a way that you can show that you have a skill set that can contribute to that corporation or that company, so that they can continue to make revenue, then you become indispensable in a way.

Because even as the marketplace is changing, and it will, every marketplace will evolve, customers will evolve and have a bigger and bigger say. You know, customers are powerful now because they have more and more say in what products they choose and who they buy from. And their powerful customers are more and more powerful now because of social media. But if you have a skill set, and you can demonstrate that you can help them solve that problem, then that’s indispensable.

Mac Prichard:

If you’re working for a nonprofit, show how you’ve contributed to grant dollars or other forms of revenue. If you’re in the private sector, how you’re adding to the bottom line and quantify that.

How can people find purposeful work, Grace? Once they ask those four questions and they’re clear about what they want.

Grace Lee:

See, here’s the thing, I don’t…about the language here, I don’t believe that you find a purpose, you create purpose. It’s created. And this is a little bit of a language tweak there because when you are in the mindset that purpose has to be found, you’re actually surrendering a bit of control and power that you actually have within you.

Because then it becomes an external motivator because you’ve got to find it. But when you know and you own the fact that you can create purpose for yourself and in your life and that that purpose can be sustainable into your future, then you retain that power that you’ve always had inside of you and it comes from internal positioning.

It comes from a true and a strong belief in your mission and a belief in your own abilities and your competencies.

Mac Prichard:

I think that’s an important point you’re making because it is ultimately about creating your own opportunity rather than going on a journey of discovery and hoping to find somebody who’s offering what interests you. Instead, you’re taking charge, aren’t you?

Grace Lee:

Absolutely, and it’s so important because most people don’t feel that they can take charge but you can. Especially with how powerful consumers can be, employees and savvy professionals also have power within them.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Grace. Now tell us, what’s next for you?

Grace Lee:

I’m in the process of building this global movement called Career Revisionist, and my ultimate goal is one million dream careers created. And also by teaching people these principles of business development and understanding that you can create your future, and by understanding the future, work in the evolution of that.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know people can learn more about that movement, as well as your podcast, The Career Revisionist by going to We’ll be sure to include that URL in the show notes and the website article at

Now, Grace, you’ve shared a lot of information with us, some great advice. What’s the one thing you want the audience to remember about why you shouldn’t follow your passion when you pick a career?

Grace Lee:

I would like people, listeners to realize that they have everything they need within them. Everything they need. All the knowledge is within them, that power is within. It just has to be…you just have to recognize and learn about that power.

Mac Prichard:

Passion is a starting point but it’s not the end of the journey. As Grace said, you need to be clear about your purpose. It takes some work to get clear about that, but once you know, your work’s not done.

You also have to take charge of your career and that means not waiting to be picked, so as Grace pointed out, and this made a big impression on me, you don’t want to go out and find your career, you want to look for ways to create it and that means you’re in charge.

I think that’s a really important point to remember, wherever you may be in your job search or your career.

Here’s another place where you need to take charge, salary negotiation. Whether you’re in a job and you’re up for an annual review, or you’re doing a job search, you’re going to have to talk about money. Are you ready for that conversation?

We’ve got a free guide that can help. It’s called How to Talk About Money In an Interview.

You can get your copy today.

Go to Again, that’s

Do you think that when you join a new company that your worries are over?

Or that it’s up to your new boss to tell you what to do next?

Think again.

Our guest next Wednesday is Robert Moment. And he says if you want to thrive in your career, you need a 90-day plan when you start a new job.

We’ll talk about why this is so. And we’ll also dig into the mistakes new employees make that can lead to dismissal in 90 days or less.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.