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Emotional Wellness and Career Choice

By Julie Hamel

As you progress through your college career, you may be asking yourself such questions as: Am I in the right major? Will I have a job when I get out? What if this isn’t the field I want to be in? Am I making the right career decision? Pondering these questions can lead to stress and confusion!

Sometimes we must accept the fact that we can’t know all of the answers to these questions right now. College students can’t know exactly what the future holds for them in any given field or career, but there are some things we can learn about work in general, and what will lead us to overall job satisfaction and emotional well being.

Howard Gardner, renowned for his research on multiple intelligences, has identified the components of what he calls “good work.” Gardner believes that most of us want to do more than just earn a living, although that may be what initially drives us into a work situation. He also believes that we want to take pride in what we do, and if we end up doing work where these needs are not met, we will feel dissatisfied and disheartened.

So what is “good work”? Gardner and his fellow researchers have identified three qualities of “good work.” It should be of high quality or technically excellent, personally meaningful or engaging, and carried out in a socially responsible, or ethical manner, or as Gardner terms it, the “Triple Helix of Good Work.”

Many college graduates may be so focused on just finding a first job that they feel they can’t afford to be choosy. Student debt may also drive a graduate to take the first job they are offered, just so they are able to tackle their monthly payments. So, is “good work” impossible to do if you are a young man or woman just starting their career? The answer should be a resounding, NO! Perhaps your first employment situation isn’t your dream job, but that shouldn’t prevent you from pursuing two of Gardner’s three “Es.” You should always be finding ways to do excellent and ethical work, and those are precisely the things that may allow you to move on to the next position you seek.

As you become more proficient in your job, and gain more experience, you will, hopefully, find a career that encompasses the third E proposed by Gardner – work that is personally meaningful or engaging.

In the current job market, many graduates may need to take jobs that aren’t quite what they had envisioned for themselves, but if we look at the goal of practicing the three “Es,” we can see that it is possible to do “good work” in any job – from farming to waiting tables, from childcare to veterinary practice; or from retail work to nursing – and at any level, whether entering the career field right out of college or as an experienced worker nearing retirement.

Leaving the college environment and finding that first real job is a stressful experience, but if you make it a goal to do “good work” wherever you are hired, you will, hopefully, find yourself on a path that will lead you to lifelong fulfillment and the satisfaction that you have left the world a better place!

Czikszentmihalyi, M., Damon,W., Gardner, H. (2008). The GoodWork® Project: An Overview.
Retrieved Sept. 14, 2009, from

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Emotional Wellness and Career Choice (pdf)