Last week Catherine Zeta-Jones performed at the Oscars when she was eight months pregnant. What a surprise that behind her Hollywood glitz is a working mom who challenges workplace stereotypes.

Image is so important at the workplace, and the image of a pregnant woman does not scream workplace success. In fact, the image of a pregnant woman usually induces quiet musings about whether she'll ever work again after the baby comes.

Hollywood is the extreme of this problem, because in Hollywood, one's job is to look good. But Hollywood is also the crowd that sets the tone for what is socially acceptable, so it's a big deal that Catherine stood in front of the most important audience of her career and did her job: She sang a song.

Working through one's pregnancy is difficult enough, but Catherine's job is to look sexy and confident. Whether or not she did look sexy is up for discussion (the ranks were divided at the Oscar party I attended). But Catherine did make serious progress toward making people comfortable around working women who are pregnant. And her presence on stage should make the world a little more comfortable with pregnant women wielding power.

My own version of fat Hollywood happened one week before my baby was due. An editor called me to say the magazine (not Bankrate) needed a photo of me. They wanted to set up a photo shoot that week. I went ballistic. I said no way. I reminded the editor that I was forty-five pounds overweight. I vowed to never answer the phone again until the baby came.

But I did answer the phone again. And again. Because the editor called relentlessly. When I could feel myself starting to cry (it happened all the time during the pregnancy), I agreed to a photo session a week after my baby's due date.

The baby came, and in the biggest rip-off of my life, I lost only five pounds during delivery.

The day of the shoot was day three of no sleep, and day four of no shower. The stylist called to ask me to bring shirts in three different colors. I said, “I have one shirt that fits, and it's dirty, and I'll be wearing it.”

Ever since then, I have admonished myself for going to the photo shoot before I lost the pregnancy weight. But now I'm thinking maybe I wasn't so stupid — in the ideal world all women would feel comfortable being their fat, pregnant selves at work.

Take note, though: Catherine made a point of mentioning her hormonal imbalance during her acceptance speech. She mentioned hormones to make sure everyone knows she is not JUST fat, but fat because she's pregnant. Surely a publicist advised this tactic, and I think it's a good one. For better or worse, people perceive fat and pregnant as much more acceptable than just fat.

Recently, I told my editor I lost all my pregnancy weight, and I asked if we could take new photos.

He said; “I think you look like a babe in your photo.”

When he told me that I thought to myself, “He is full of crap.” But that was before the Oscars. I thought Catherine looked good. Fat. But confident. So maybe I exude confidence, too. If only I could write a caption below my photo that mentions something about hormones”

Email is one of the most convenient ways to be impetuously stupid, so if you are writing an email you wouldn't want your boss to read — or the SEC, or your grandma — then don't send it.

Assume that everything you write via email will appear in the business section of the newspaper. Compose your messages with care and pause before you send; ask yourself, “Does this email make me look good?” Obviously, if you are about to lie or cheat, do not send an email to document your lack of ethics. But there are some other, less obvious types of email which won't make you a felon, but they won't make you look good, either, so don't send them.

1. The you're-a-screw-up email
If you need to tell someone they did a bad job, do it in person so you can gauge their reaction. For example, if you open with “Your negligence on this project cost the department $2 million,” and then the employee starts crying, you probably shouldn't continue in an extremely angry tone — at least not until he composes himself. Another reason not to reprimand via email: people will leave this type of email in their in-box for weeks and weeks and reread it every time they want to resurrect their hate for you. Talking in person helps everyone to move past the conflict without sour residue.

2. The I'm-a-screw-up email
Do not document your weaknesses. If you must apologize for botching a project, do it in person so there is no email record of your mistake for people to forward around the office. The more documentation you leave, the more your mistake festers in peoples' minds. And for God's sake, do not send a mass email to apologize. You will invariably announce your screw-up to people who would never have heard of it otherwise.

3. The bcc email
This email function is for people who are insecure, manipulative, and undermining of their co-workers. Even if you are this type of person, do not announce it to everyone by using the bcc function. Sure, only the people in the bcc line realize you're using it. But all those people will understand that you are not strong enough to let everyone know who's reading the email. If you feel compelled to use the bcc function, ask yourself why. Then get up off your chair, go deal with the problem face-to-face, and then go back to your desk to send a more honest email.

4. The joke email
Even if it's the funniest joke of all time (which I am sure it isn't) do not send it to your co-workers. Why make the announcement that you read spam during work hours? You should be working. You might think that telling a joke is a good way to establish rapport, but a spam joke is unoriginal, and impersonal and does nothing to make you closer to co-workers who matter. Besides, if someone thinks the joke is stupid, she will think you are stupid for sending it.

5. The Dear John email
I am amazed at how many people break up via email, from the office. I realize that some people are such dirt bags that they don't deserve a nice breakup. I also realize that if you handle a breakup from your office then the pressures of work can distract you from the drama of your personal life. But I am sure that there will be a web site — maybe a new section on — for people to publish breakup emails received. And your name will be mud in the dating world if you are known for sending breakup emails from work.

The bottom line is that sending an email is like getting dressed in the morning — both are ways to manage the way people perceive you. The only difference is that if you have a terrible outfit, you can take it off and never wear it again. A terrible email propagates in cyberspace and will seem, to the original sender, to last forever.

Now that the war is official, the workday will change a little bit for everyone. Furtive looks to CNN will be more frequent. Travel will be less frequent. And many people will be nervous for themselves or for loved ones. Depending on where we think danger lies, each of us will do a few quirky things to prepare our work selves for war.

As a New Yorker who was at the World Trade Center on September 11, I probably worry more than most people. I have started working closer to home so that in the event of emergency, I don't have to cross a bridge to get back to my son. (Bridges and tunnels closed in New York City on September 11.) You might think this precaution is extreme, but here in New York, you can feel the tension over terrorism, and most of it focuses on work. After all, that's where most people were the last time terror struck.

My friend who escaped the World Financial Center on September 11 focuses his worrying on the logistics of escape. He warns everyone to know where exits are in your office and to have a good computer backup system. “This way you won't have to think about what you're leaving in the office if you have to run.” (To some this planning might sound extreme, but New Yorkers remember that at least one person died in the last terrorist attack because he took time to finish up his office work before he left the building.)

The war makes my brother Mike worry about money. (Not surprising since he works in finance.) He worries that if his New York office is blown up, he will not have life insurance. He explains that while most companies offer employees life insurance, most companies do not actually hold a large enough policy to cover all employees if their building blows up. Usually the rules of coverage dictate that the highest up in the company receive insurance coverage first. So, to prepare for possible violence, Mike is taking out a separate life insurance policy for himself.

Workplace war preparedness goes beyond New York. My mom's office, in Illinois, now has departure drills. They practice for a crisis where they cannot leave the building, and they practice a plan for evacuating the building. This is not a bad idea; the success of the World Trade Center evacuation is largely attributed to the earlier drills. And, my mom says her co-workers feel more calm in the face of war because their company is thinking about the safety of employees.

My friend Liz, in Los Angeles, has a stash of canned food and a flashlight in her desk drawer. “You never know about terrorism,” she said. “And if I get stuck at work, I don't want to be hungry.” I asked her if her co-workers are taking precautions and she said, “in general, no.” But she lives in LA, and she pointed out that people already have supplies in their offices in case of an earthquake.

At this point, we live in a country that associates terrorism with the workplace. And now that we are officially at war, the threat feels more palpable. You probably won't keep canned food at your desk. But maybe you will take a tour of your office building stairwells. The most important thing is to recognize your own level of anxiety, and take actions to calm yourself down. Whatever action you take will reflect the type of things you worry about, and the type of person you are.

There's nothing like forty bombs on a Middle-East metropolis to make you feel like your weekly widget report is meaningless. But we can't bring the economy to a screeching halt. If nothing else, we need to eat, we have to get paid. So we find ourselves making judgments each day about what is in poor taste and what reflects the needs of a workplace that must go on.

On September 11, I was working at a company located six blocks from the World Trade Center. I exited the subway right after the first plane hit. Took a look up at the burning building, and then walked to my office. That might sound strange, but I am one of thousands of people who did that, because office workers are accustomed to order, predictability and routine. Five days a week we exit the subway and walk to work. If you do something that often, you usually start to like it.

Even now, in the face of war, the predictability and stability of going to work every day provides a counterbalance to the unknown factors of battle. Some might say, “How can you sell widgets when people are dying in Baghdad?” But routine, really, is a way to cope. In the face of an unpredictable and violent world, the routine of the weekly widget report takes on near-spiritual meaning.

After the second plane hit the South Tower, there was a steady rain of papers out our office windows. There was a steady stream of employees saying, “Do we have a TV here? Do we have cable? Do you know what happened?” And there was my boss. He said, “Everyone should just go back to work. There's nothing we can do.” Even a half-hour after the second plane hit, my boss was in his office sending email to a department that ran around the office like over-excited school children at recess.

We will always remember my boss, locked up in his office, oblivious to doom. And this is the danger of our penchant for routine. It should be comforting but not a means of denial. When it was time for my boss to acknowledge that the day, in fact, would not be a workday, he could not make the shift in plans. Oh he shifted, but not until the office was engulfed in debris and the FBI had taken over the street in front of the building.

Working during wartime is a balance. We should appreciate the comfort of routine, but we should know when to make an adjustment.

Take a tip from advertisers, who know that airing commercials about familiar brands is comforting, but commercials rife with frat-house humor or on-sale-now jargon are a turn-off to a fragile population. McDonald’s, for example, will run branding commercials featuring children, and the company will save the hawking of value meal deals for a peace-time project.

McDonald's knows that people need comfort in consistency. These tactics may seem heartless, consumerist, or crass, but the reality is that we are all going to keep the economy going while the war rages. So when you show up to work, understand the value of consistency but know your limits. Know why you do what you do, and when it is time to stop.

And don't underestimate the stability work provides to a population on edge. Sure, we worry about another terrorist attack, especially now that the war has begun. But sitting in your duct-taped home, isolated, in a pool of nervous sweat will only exacerbate anxiety. We should all strike a balance between work and worry as a means to cope with war.

I know this isn't what you want to hear, but the people who are incredibly good at what they do are not unemployed. So if you are unemployed, you probably are not outstanding in your chosen profession. Sorry. But don't feel too bad, because everyone is great at something — you just need to find that thing. And there's no better time to soul-search than when you aren't making money anyway: No lost opportunity cost.

People who have incredible achievements in their career or show amazing promise have resumes that get snapped up quickly. Hiring managers receive hundreds of resumes for each job opening, and invariably, three or four of these resumes are outstanding. If your resume is not outstanding, you will not rise to the top of one of these piles.

Sure, there are exceptions: your idiot college roommate who is making six figures or the incompetent co-worker who survived the layoff that you did not. But I bet you cannot think of someone who has rocked the world of every boss she's had yet hunts hopelessly for a job.

Still wondering if you're one of the best? Well, if you haven't received some sort of offer in five or six months, that is not a good sign. Doors open when someone incredible knocks — even companies with hiring freezes make exceptions for outstanding candidates. Mike Russiello, CEO of Brainbench, says, “Companies are getting very good at identifying top performers — looking at things like, past roles in projects, certifications, and how someone interviews.” You are not going to fake anyone out with inflated Internet titles or achievements you cannot quantify. If you're not top you're not top.

And do not try to console yourself by saying that you are a rare find who suffers from bad networking. Sure, good networking helps. But the truth is that if you really are a rare find, the network comes to you. If you are amazing at your chosen profession, people call you, people check in with you, people want to be near you. You don't need good networking skills to answer your phone when it rings. You only need good networking skills to compensate for the fact that no one calls.

But instead of banking on good networking skills, how about changing careers to do something at which you are, indeed, outstanding? Unemployment is a great point in life to make use of excess time to figure out where your gifts really lie and what you really love to do.

Most people who are not outstanding in their job are not doing what they really love. The good news is that if you do what you love, you're more likely to end up rich. One survey of 1500 undergraduate business students found that 87% of the students said they wanted to make money quickly and figure out self-fulfillment later. The remaining 13% of the students said gratification was more important than money. Twenty years later 101 of those students were millionaires and all but one of those students were from the group who said gratification was more important than money.

There's nothing like a bad economy to make you more honest with yourself. Less money to go out to dinner, less money to go shopping: Try sitting at home and doing some soul-searching. At least entertain the possibility that you are not that great at your work and your talents lie somewhere else. You can spend another six months sending out mediocre resumes to scarce job leads, or you can recreate yourself as a person who is in love with your career choice and more passionate and competent than any of your competitors.

Change is difficult. And career change is especially scary. But in this economy, some people will find that not changing is more risky than changing.

Weaknesses are hard to beat, so if you’re really serious about making a personal change, I recommend a career coach. But be careful, because a good coach is hard to find. I learned to find good coaches by enduring bad ones. I also learned that when you find a good one, you can change in ways that will surprise you.

The first career coach I ever hired was someone who my boss recommended. He gave me the guy’s phone number and I called.

The coach’s voicemail message closed with, “Have a wonderful and life-changing day!”

I told my boss I could not work with someone who was so positive about change that he was a psycho.

My boss said, “This guy is renowned for working with famous business women.” (My boss dropped the name of a woman who worked with this coach. I am not going to tell you this woman’s name because you know her, and to this day I still question her judgment.) But the name-dropping worked. I wanted to be famous. So I agreed to meet with the guy.

He told me that most women he worked with needed to learn to be more assertive. He said, “I can tell you would be responsive to that sort of training, because you’re wearing a skirt.” Then he winked at me. So for my first lesson in assertiveness, I fired him.

My second coach was someone my boss read about in a newsletter. This coach told me I needed to appear grounded and stable as a leader. Her vision hit a nerve: I had catapulted up the corporate ladder, and some days I wondered what I was doing there. I thought I was wondering privately, but the coach showed me how my demeanor gave it away. “You walk like you’re on air,” she told me. “Your bounce belies giddiness and your swinging arms look impetuous.” She showed me how to walk so that I looked grounded and stable. The most interesting thing she taught me was that if I could change how I walk I would change how I felt. I wouldn’t have believed that until someone forced me to try it.

Later I saw a coach speaking at an entrepreneur’s conference. I hired her to help me handle board meetings. I learned not to smile so much. She pointed out that women smile a lot and men don’t and it makes men nervous. To soften the blow, she smiled at me. She told me my sweater was cut a little low, which made me happy since I never thought I myself as a woman with cleavage. But for the most part, her thing was public speaking, and I am definitely better at keeping an audience’s attention because of her coaching.

So here’s my advice on choosing a coach: Interview a few, because each coach has a different approach, and not all will be right for you. To get a sense of the coach, ask, “What are you best at doing with your clients?” If you like the answer, do a short trial session. If you ask someone what he or she is best at and they won’t give you an answer, it’s because they’re not good at anything, so hang up.

Recommendations from a respected friend or co-worker are a good bet. But, as you can see from my experience, a recommendation isn’t foolproof. I have had good luck going to a bookstore and perusing the careers section for books by coaches. If you like a book, you will probably like the coach who wrote it. Many coaches speak at conferences, so go to listen to a few if you’re on the prowl. One career coach I know routinely recommends my columns to her clients, so how bad can she be? If you absolutely cannot get up off your sofa, then get a recommendation from the career coach hotline: (239) 415-1777.

Enlisting the help of a coach may seem like a high-risk move — after all, a bad coach is really bad. But you also take a risk by not getting help to address your weaknesses.