I am nearing the end of a 40-year career. (And it would have been even longer except that I stretched out college for absolutely as long as my parents could stand.)
Forty years of work life has provided me with a few insights.
1. If you are like the vast majority of human beings on this earth, you will always have a boss. This boss might be dumber than you and less competent than you and sooner or later will even be younger than you. I have a chance to have one more President of the United States older than me (if Hillary runs and wins) - but that will be my last time. I am now used to people in authority being younger than me.
But here's the thing about bosses. No one likes to be told what to do. But unless he or she is a real prick (pardon my language, but it is the right word here), it is up to YOU to get along with your boss. If your boss asks you do something that is even remotely connected to your actual job description, you say "Sure." And you do it. Try to make your boss's life easier. The last thing you want is for your boss to think that one of his problems is YOU.
2. When you are new at a job, you will not like it. Look at it this way: You just left a job where you knew what you were supposed to do (to the point of boredom... that's probably why you left) and now not only are you unsure of what you are supposed to do, but you don't even have any friends, or know where the mailboxes are or when to have lunch. OF COURSE you hate it. But you did not necessarily make a mistake taking the job. Give it six months. You might eventually make a friend and be able to transfer a call and even find the copier toner.
3. Speaking of competence, we all make mistakes. When you make a mistake, own up to it. Apologize, accept responsibility and move on. If you don't dwell on the mistake, your chances are better that no one else will either. But here's an interesting caveat. I made a pretty big mistake early in my career. I felt horrible. When I told the boss about my error, I also said that I was really, really sorry and very disappointed in myself. And he said, "I should be furious with you, but I haven't got the heart to yell at you. You already feel bad enough." Hmmm, I thought. This could be a pretty good strategy for handling a major screw-up.
4. Take your vacation time. Take all of it. I offer this advice as someone who never did. And now I see that the company and the world will not fall apart if you schedule some deserved relaxation. You need a break. Take one.
On the other hand, be careful about sick time. Learn to work sick. I'm not saying you should drag yourself in and infect everyone else with Ebola. I'm saying that as much as good sense indicates: Suck It Up. Taking planned, expected time off makes you look reasonable and responsible. Unplanned, unexpected and inconvenient absences make you look unreliable.
5. Don't complain about your job (except to your spouse or your best friend - with them, you have permission to bitch a little). No one likes his job every single minute. You are always going to have good days and bad days. Don't complain constantly - especially at work, but also in restaurants, on Facebook, at the gym... you could be overheard. And when someone asks you about your job: If overall you like it well enough, you say, "It's pretty good." And if it is terrible, say, "I'm learning a lot" - and keep quietly looking for a better one.
6. Try, whenever possible, not to go to HR with your issues. I'm not dissing HR folk - after all, they hire us, they make sure we have medical benefits and training and sometimes even donuts - but if you go to them with a problem, they have no choice but to make it a big deal. And you may be very sorry later when things get blown out of proportion. I do not mean that you should submit to workplace abuse or sexual harassment or that you should turn a blind eye to unethical conduct. Do not ignore illegal behavior. But if you have complaints about a coworker or you think your boss is unfair or you think that you should have gotten that stupid promotion - try to take it directly to the person you have the issue with. And leave HR out of it. Address the problem yourself. Face people. You will have better results.
7. Last, but not least - (until I think of more, anyway) - learn the value of coffee or tea. And perhaps a good piece of chocolate in the afternoon. As an accountant, I speak from authority when I say that staring at numbers plus a nice little lunch equals a very sleepy interval about 2:00 pm. And I am also speaking from experience when I say that once you fall asleep at work, it is very hard to live it down. Especially if it happens more than once. In the same week.
Read more from Nancy at her blog "Not Quite Old."
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