Editor’s note: Every Tuesday, Micael Kemp will be decoding all things career-related for job-hunting (or just job-pondering) Gauchos. Check www.dailynexus.com for her weekly online column.

Students are looking scared. With all the talk of the housing crash, financial crisis, banks being bought and sold and the stock market taking daily dives, it’s a scary time to be choosing a career. Do you choose a job that’s recession-proof, or is it still best to follow your heart? Are there any guarantees that the career you choose or the company that hires you will still be around in six months? These are questions we’re starting to hear as students flock to Career Services at the start of fall quarter, and the kinds of issues I want to address in this column.

First, let me introduce myself. I’m the director of career services. I have a Master’s degree in counseling and over 25 years of experience teaching and counseling students on everything from choosing a major to negotiating job offers. More to the point, I have been where you are – fearful, not knowing what’s next – scores of times in my life. My journey to this point has not been smooth and includes lots of twists and turns. While I took lots of art, English, business and psychology classes after I graduated high school, I didn’t seriously attend college until I was 28, and graduate school even later than that. Meanwhile, I explored dozens of job and career options in the best way possible – through trial and error. I had jobs as, in no particular order, an office manager, a maid, a veterinarian’s assistant, a gas station attendant, a PBX operator (Google it), an etched glass artist, a small business owner, director of a women’s center and about 20 other positions. Some I held for a few months, others for a year or two. While not all glamorous, each of these jobs taught me about myself and what I did or did not want to do in my life. In the end, I chose psychology as my undergraduate major, counseling as my graduate area of study and working with students as a career counselor, professor and administrator as my career.

Why is the question of careers so important to me? Because I’ve had a lot of them. Because I know the angst of trying to find ones that fit. And because I know that the work we do defines us. When you go to a party and people ask you what your major is, your answer colors how they see you. It’s the same thing when they ask what work you do. All of us react differently when meeting a police officer, an insurance agent, an artist or a nuclear physicist. Those reactions color the way we see, think about and appreciate those careers and we would feel about ourselves in those careers. Those reactions drive our choices and our choices determine the people we become. Being given the chance to help people unpack all of that makes me excited to get up in the morning and come to work.

So, what would I say to you at the start of your journey? That it is hard to make an irreparable mistake (this coming from someone who has made many mistakes and is still within viewing distance of a comfortable retirement). And even though the economy is tumultuous at the moment, you have already made the most important decision in your life – to attend college. By the time you’re ready to retire, you will have earned 10 times more than your friends who stopped with a high school degree. And you will have acquired the skills and resilience to recover from whatever twists and turns life offers you as you seek choices that work for you.

Now it’s your turn. Let me know what questions you have and what issues are high on your radar screen. I’ll choose one or two questions each week and post answers right here in this column. To get started, visit, www.career.ucsb.edu and look over what services are already available to you. Then email me when you hit a snag and let’s see if we can’t keep you moving forward. You can reach me at micael.kemp@sa.ucsb.edu.