by Regan McMahon
There I stood, frozen in indecision facing a sale rack at Macy’s, as 20-percent-off coupons burned a hole in my pocket and my generous sister urged me to pick out something nice for my birthday. Since taking the buyout, I hadn’t bought any clothes because I didn’t know what I might need in my next job. And maybe I didn’t need any if I’m just freelancing from home in my jammies. How do you dress for success when you have no idea what the future holds?
I’ve never held a corporate job, so I didn’t have that uniform to fall back on. When I thought I was getting a Web site job, I figured I’d soon be putting together a new hip-casual wardrobe (the young women in the office padded around in skinny jeans and Uggs). When I interviewed for a civil service job, I took note of the non-nonsense pant suits all around.
At my old job at the newspaper, there was no dress code. I could be as tailored or sloppy, fashionable or style-less as I wanted to be. Lately I’d been favoring cute short jackets and flouncy skirts at work. I saw plenty of each radically discounted during the holiday season and could picture myself wearing them at my old desk. But where would my new desk be? I had applied at venerable universities and edgy startups. Not knowing where I’d land, I felt I should hold off on any purchases. My sister finally gave up and steered me to the kitchen store Sur La Table, where it was much easier to find something I knew I’d use, and one size fits all.
The Christmas season  brought up lots of hot-button unemployment issues when I least expected them. Even buying a calendar posed a conundrum. That time of year I always bought myself a wall calendar for work. But would I even have a wall in my alleged new job?
Everything was in limbo. Would we have a family vacation this year for me to mark on the calendar? A new job would probably not come with one. And without a new job, we couldn’t afford one.
One thing I could do was get in shape to feel better and look better on job interviews. So I reactivated my membership at the YMCA and started working out and taking classes. I signed up for Tai Chi, which I’d always wanted to take, and was amused at my first session to find a gym full of silver-haired retirees … and me. Who else can take a class at 10:30 a.m.?
So now I have my freelance work to keep my brain active, and my exercise regimen to keep my body moving. Maybe Tai Chi will be the thing to forge a mind-body connection. I’ve spent my whole career being all work all the time. That’s what’s most unsettling about being out of work.
When my fitness consultant met with me to design a workout program, she asked what sports I did. I told her I didn’t get to surf as much as I liked, and recounted how I loved being on vacation in Hawaii because I got to surf every day. I told her how much I enjoyed working hard for two hours every morning while my family relaxed at the vacation rental. “You’re calling surfing work?” she asked, puzzled. “You really are all about work, aren’t you?
“I think you’re going to learn a lot about yourself during this period,” she said. “This is a really exciting time.”
“Exciting” was not the word I might have chosen—especially since the financial markets blew up. But it did give me a clue that I have more to do than just find a job. I have to find out who I am, now that my job no longer defines me.
Read the next installment: A Stay-at-Home Mom at Last 
Read Part One 
Read Part Two 
Read Part Three 
Read Part Four 
Read Part Five 
Regan McMahon is the author of Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy over Youth Sports .