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Oops! I called my boss "dude." Career coaches discuss workplace dilemmas


This story has been adapted from the Life Kit newsletter. To receive a weekly dose of life hacks, relationship advice, health tips, and more, subscribe to our newsletter.

Navigating workplace behavior can be challenging. You want to be yourself, relaxed, and genuine, but sometimes it feels too casual.

For instance, I once called my boss "dude." She's only slightly older than me, so I started behaving more casually, which I probably should save for peers. I immediately felt like I had crossed that invisible line separating a professional from an amateur. Since then, I've made a conscious effort to dial it back a bit.

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Fortunately, Life Kit is here to help you tackle these awkward workplace dilemmas. This summer, we asked you to send us work-related questions, from dealing with a boss who holds different political views to combating age discrimination. We then asked career coaches from Embrace Change, a leadership training organization, to weigh in and provide specific advice.

Here's a selection of questions and answers, edited for length and clarity.

I've hit a wall in my job. When is it time to leave to further my education and, consequently, my earning potential? —Talia

Advice from career coach Brandon Johnson: Ask yourself if education is truly holding you back. Or is it something else?

Make sure it's not other factors, like burnout, your company's culture, or your boss. If you're certain it's education, then it may be time to go back. However, returning to school is a big deal, so you need to make sure it's the right decision. It might be better to find a new organization that offers more growth opportunities and supports your development. Read the full answer here.

I recently took sick leave due to mental health issues and, after a few months, decided I couldn't continue working there and resigned.

While I'm enjoying the break, it's challenging for me to discuss my situation with friends and family. How can I talk about my career hiatus without feeling shame and criticism? —Cara

Advice from career development and personal growth coach Payal Shah: First of all, congratulations on listening to yourself and taking a bold step in alignment with your values and well-being. I'm glad your post-leave journey has brought you liberation. At the same time, it's normal to experience anxiety and other emotions during this process.

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How do you feel when you share your news? Are you coming from a place of apology, insecurity, or hesitation? Or enthusiasm and conviction? Know that people can react differently to different energies, and the energy and emotions behind our words can play a role in how others react to us. Read the full answer here.

I've worked for my boss for over 30 years. During the 2016 election, he messaged me on Facebook about whom I was supporting. After his inflated speech, I stopped him, saying that I'm a lifelong Democrat. Since then, he has treated me differently.

I'm 60 years old, and I won't be able to retire until I'm 65. I don't want to leave my job due to my age. I would have a hard time getting employed elsewhere. —Nancy

Advice from Johnson: I would ask you, what's within your control? Can you limit direct interaction with this person? Can you avoid things that trigger his inflated speeches?

Depending on your comfort level, you can also request a meeting with him to discuss workplace boundaries. Express that you're interested in creating a positive atmosphere while keeping personal discussions, such as political beliefs, outside of the workplace. Read the full answer here.

I'm 56 years old, and I'm trying to re-enter the field of clinical nutrition. I've had many Zoom interviews that, in my opinion, went well. I think my age is the issue. There are so many young professionals I'm up against. Any suggestions? —Marcy

Advice from Johnson: I'm sorry to hear you've had this experience. Companies are responsible for preventing bias from infiltrating the hiring process, but we all know not all of them live up to these expectations.

In the case of age discrimination, you can employ tactics to overcome bias. Approach interviews and networking from an energy standpoint rather than experience. At the interview stage, employers already know you have extensive experience because they've seen your resume and cover letter. Use your interview to showcase your motivation to engage with the culture, work with diverse groups, and play a pivotal role in your role. Read the full answer here.