M.A.P.S.: The Four Pillars of Creative Job Fulfillment

Tell me if you can relate to the following: You’ve been working for the last few years with your head down, putting one foot in front of the other, just following the path under your feet. But you feel that the career path you’re on might not be the right one – that, somehow, you’ve drifted off course. You know it’s time to take action, but you’re not sure how.

The first step is to shift your perspective: To understand that a career is something that you create, rather than a pre-existing role that you step into. It takes considerable energy to plan your own future, but if you don’t figure out what you want to become, someone else will define it for you. Hunter S. Thompson said it best: “A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” Don’t be that man!

If you don’t figure out what you want to become, someone else will define it for you.

In my own career as a Creative Director and public speaker, I have met many talented and extraordinary people. I have always been in awe of the passionate ones, who use their skills with confidence, who surround themselves with an atmosphere of inspiration, and who find true meaning in what they do.

These qualities – the ones that make for a fulfilling career – can be distilled down into 4 main categories, or “pillars,” as I like to call them. They are: Meaning, Atmosphere, Passion, and Skills – aka M.A.P.S., a career compass to help point you in the right direction.

Here’s how the process works:


Why are you here? (And I don’t mean at this website.) What drives you to get up every morning? What makes you feel hopeful about the future? This is what really matters to you. Make a list of your purposes, or goals in life. Start with a sentence like: “The reason I work is to…” and fill in the blank. Some possible answers are, “…continue learning,” or, “…get to know amazing, talented people that expand my worldview.” When you are done, rank your list with the most important purpose at the top.


Where do you see yourself? Close your eyes and imagine yourideal work environment. Is it high energy or relaxed? Who are you working with? Or are you working alone? Be specific. What does your workspace look like? Are you working at home, in a shared space? Write it all down. Your surroundings directly affect how you feel. They can inspire you and keep your energy up, or they can drain you of all ambition. When you are finished with your list, prioritize it with the most important elements at the top.


Make a list of the things you absolutely love. These are the things you can’t get enough of. Think of things you love to experience (beautiful architecture, vintage wine) as well as things you like to create (furniture designs, electronic music). Hopefully you will have a long list. When you are finished, restructure your list with the items you are most passionate about at the top to those you are least passionate about at the bottom.


What you are good at? Write a list of your proficiencies, including specific tasks (copyediting) and social skills (good at motivating others). Remember that these don’t have to be things you like to do, just things you are capable of. If you get stuck, try asking friends, family, and co-workers what your skill sets are. You might be surprised to hear what they come up with. Once you have at least 10 skills, re-write them in order of importance, with your greatest strengths at the top.


Now take a good look at your prioritized lists; this is your new career M.A.P.S. (Meaning, Atmosphere, Passions, Skills). Does your current job pay off on the top few of each pillar? Ask yourself some tough questions:

  • Are you utilizing your best skills?
  • Are you exercising your main passions?
  • Are you working in an atmosphere that is conducive to your creativity?
  • Are you getting something meaningful from your job?

These are tough questions, and it might be valuable to go over them and the results with a close friend, a trusted manager, or a life coach.Most people have never done this exercise and are surprised by how far off the M.A.P.S. they have let their careers take them. But before you quit your day job, consider the following:

1. You can supplement your current job with a project that brings the top qualities in your pillars to bear.

Hugh MacLeod, author of Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity emphatically states in #7: Keep your day job. Sex and cash are in direct competition, he says. So do the sexy, passionate stuff you love on the side, and earn a living to support it.

2. You can attempt to course correct your current job.

Talk to your manager or human resources person about how you can incorporate some of your new awareness into your current position. Or perhaps create a new position for yourself within the company. I know Tech Developers who have become Art Directors, and Art Directors who have become Strategists. A good company will recognize your passions and want to put your best skills to work.

If you still feel the need to look for something new, remember M.A.P.S. at your next interview. Ask about the things that matter to you, because you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. It’s your life and you have to work for it. Happy hunting!

How Does It Work For You?

What role has finding your passion played in your career development? How do
you marry doing meaningful work with paying the rent?

More insights on: Career Development

Jason Theodor

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Jason Theodor is a creative director, speaker, and consultant who specializes in problem solving for online brands and individuals. You can follow him on Twitter @jted.
load comments (19)
  • Franklin Taggart

    Great article! I’d also add people somewhere in this equation. One of the things that makes my job most enjoyable to me are the exciting, inspiring people I get to work with and the cool, creative people that I get to serve. All of the things you mentioned and the people factor make my work an ongoing peak experience.

  • Steven

    I am so glad I stumbled across this blog today! I am really enjoying the theme, energy and layout.

    It’s fascinating to me how many different ways creativity can be thought of and interpreted. I just what a post on it myself earlier this morning

  • Tom de Vries

    I’d worked for over 8 years as a factoryworker and cleaner. Meanwhile the changes on the table has turned out very lucky. The Company knows all about my background and talent. My new job as a editor, journalist and in the nearby future: desginer has bring some joy into my life. Never stop following your dreams!

    Tom de Vries | Netherland

  • Andrea Vargas Messer

    I love it!!! its amazing, its like THE THEORY OF “THE SECRET” “THE LAW OF ATTRACTION” THE UNIVERSE ANSWERS TO YOUR REQUESTS â?¥ I have really love the article thanks :D +thinking

  • Darren Negraeff

    Another great post! Man I love getting your newsletter. I open all the interesting articles and then read them over the day.

    I tried to guess what MAPS would stand for and came up with Mastery, Autonomy, Purpose and…Skills. Last one was the only one I thought would be incorrect, ironically. Guess I’ve been reading too much Dan Pink recently.

    Anyway, very thought provoking. I’ll be trying this exercise sometime soon to see if I’m on the right path.

  • mmiguez

    Inspiring, yes. But not very realistic, unfortunately.

    Most companies, especially “creative” companies these days hire you for a very specific task, and for a short term. if you show your superiors that you are more forward thinking (ambitious) for both yourself and the company you might get your ideas stolen and you thrown out the door! Senior management will guard their positions ruthlessly as the competition is so incredibly fierce these days.

    The reality of the high cost of living these days; combined with the reality of how wages have/are dropping across the board; combined with competition levels out there; combined with the incredibly fast pace of change in the creative industries (way things are done); combined with how clients are yearly asking for more and more for less and less; combined with clients asking for work without long term contracts (necessary to build ANY viable business); make all of these ideas something that you should do in the top secrecy of your own heart and soul!

    Good advice… but good luck.

  • shaun

    Thanks for the article – I will be pulling the plug on my design “career” A.S.A.P.



  • MarcL

    These articles are mostly written and produced by young and/or succesful individuals.
    After following all the steps above, with or without knowing it conciously, things still can be relatively hard to cope with in ones life at some points. Don’t give in. Keep up the good work. There’re no M.A.P.S. to happiness…

  • vaishali

    thankyou so much….i can’t begin to tell you how good your advise is making me feel right now….i am a doctor by education and am in a day job….but being in a job does have limitations and i do feel unsatisfied, unsatiated and definitely have more skills which i want to practise…so its been on my mine for a long time that i should supplement the current opportunity with another..either in another job or on my own to complete the circle and rise to the fullest of my potential….having read your write up, i am very encouraged to do so…was feeling unsure of myself and my own plans until i read this story. Thankyou once again.

  • Cat Horn

    The quote at the beginning hit the nail on the head. When I left my job this past summer I knew something was going wrong in my life but I had a hard time finding the words to explain it to anyone. I found myself spending all my energy and skill on someone else’s dream and none on my own passions and vision. I wasn’t doing the things I needed to do the achieve my goals. I am working twice as long and hard now to get where I want to be but the truth is I am much happier now that I know what is important to me and I am working to get it. Letting someone else give you a purpose is easier I think, but usually far less rewarding than giving yourself a reason for living.

  • Tessa Zeng

    Or maybe it just means taking “creating your career” all the way and actually working for yourself. The only way to guarantee that your boss will always have your best “MAPS” interests at heart is to be the boss ;)

  • Frogurt

    While working for one’s self is often a goal of independent, ambitious people, it doesn’t always work. I reached out for that ideal and found the environment was far too open to be successful. For me, creativity comes from bending a box of restrictions, and those aren’t self-imposed for me. I rely on others for those rules and working independently hampered my creative output.

    Also, the concern of receiving compensation for my efforts imposed a level of anxiety that eventually shut me down. Depending on the size and scope of an ambition, it may behoove a creative to consider a much longer time where financial gain isn’t an object of consideration. In my experience, the longer an ambition can remain in a passion-fueled state, the more successful the result.

    This isn’t to say that others wouldn’t do best in a completely independent atmosphere. But I too shared that vision and found the reality to be stifling. I found I chase my ambitions best in my “free time” while my bills are paid independent of their success or failure.

  • Excel & Access Solutions

    nice use of MAPS for creative idea

  • Matthew

    Some good food for thought here, as well as actionable tasks. In order to gaurantee food on the table, I bag groceries. Whenever I’m not doing that, I’m working on my creative endeavors to fulfill my passions and skill sets. I am happy with this as long as my creative process continues to mature and hone in on the particular project that is going to break me free.

    Until then, sex and money are definitely competing. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Determined By Design

    I’m in the process of tryinng to start my own design firm. THis was the perfect article to keep me motivated in an overwhelming process.

  • Brief Buddy

    Fantastic article, in order to stay hungry and determined to do good work, you have to pursue the type of briefs you like doing.

  • elchoncho

    starting your own design form is just to satisfy your vanity. Not one of the MAPS. 

  • elchoncho

    the only path to true fulfillment is the the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Everything else is a just a distraction from that. 

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