Here are five important ths I’ve taken from my first job so far – some of which came easily, some of which I learned the hard way.

I followed the same path as many of my Economics classmates after college: moved to a new city and began working in the finance department at a large company. I didn’t really know what to expect and went in with the idea that if I worked hard, things would probably turn out okay. This strategy worked for the most part, but I also could have saved myself some stress by picking up certain lessons earlier.

LESSON #1 — Be Patient

The real world differs from school in that you can’t get ahead completely on your own timeline. In college, you could spend as much time as you wanted doing extra practice problems or editing papers in the library. But at work you might have to learn as you go along – coworkers won’t have time to sit down for hours at a time walking through various procedures that make more sense in the context of a real situation anyway. Basically, sometimes there’s no substitute for experience, and it may be several months (or more) before you can really attack your job. But you will get there!

Lesson #2 — Hard Work Brings New Opportunities

Doing your job the best you can and developing cordial relationships with those around you will pay off (or at least it should!). People move away, new obstacles arise, and organizational structures change all the time, opening up room for others to step in and learn something new. Most managers recognize which employees are capable and diligent and will let them take on extra work even if their daily tasks aren’t directly related.

LESSON #3 — If You Don’t Love It, You Won’t Get Ahead

I’m not against taking a job for financial reasons. We all have bills to pay, some more than others, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to establish your independence and start saving early on. But in my experience, it is extremely hard to go the extra mile and keep up with ambitious colleagues when you don’t find your work all that interesting or fulfilling. I cared about my company and team from the start at my current job, but having to spend the majority of my waking hours on projects that didn’t excite me in my initial role (I’ve since moved to a different area of the business) was miserable. If you can make it work financially, I’d recommend following your passion.

LESSON #4 — Prioritize Your Happiness and Health

Here’s a sad truth for ya. People talk about how much freedom you have when you start work, but it may not feel that way if you work a 9-to-5. I definitely spent more total hours attending class and studying in college than I do working in the office today, but my time now feels much less flexible. Even if you’re not crazy busy on a particular day, you’ll probably be expected to be available and ready to go during normal business hours.

So, to make my actual point, I’ve found that making time to work out and eat healthy helps me stay calm and focused throughout the day, even during stressful or slightly boring days. Luckily, the healthy eating part should become much easier with an actual salary and fewer late nights!

LESSON #5 — Be Nice to Everyone

I think this is particularly important as a young employee. You never know who’s listening, who might hear about your behavior, or who’s just having a bad day. I don’t mean that in a creepy they’re-watching-you way; the point is that you’re more likely to receive opportunities or favors from colleagues you’ve shown kindness in the past. Plus, choosing not to dwell on small injustices can make life better.

So there you have it! I hope you find these tips helpful in your first job or internship. Would you add anything to this list?

Meet The Guest Blogger, Nicole Miller:

“I work in finance by day and blog about all things twenty-something lifestyle by night. I love writing, cheesecake, working out, and women’s magazines. I grew up in Michigan, currently live in Ohio, and have watched entire seasons of Criminal Minds on Netflix in one weekend.”

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