1. Start with yourself, the only person you control. Don't fall in with naysayers, excuse-makers, deniers, apologists for the status quo. Don't wait for someone to magically tell you what to do. Take charge and only focus on you.
2. Fully engage your mind in being successful at work. I recently read that 55% of employees alternately "check in and check out." Check in.
3. Dress corporate. You are being judged in private sector terms no matter what you think. Be clean, neat, professional, and stylish. Don't use weight, age, money, etc. as an excuse. Make the commitment to step it up.
4. Document your work to your superiors. This is a balancing act. If you're documenting all the time you're not working. If you're working very fast and don't document, it looks like you didn't do anything. Shoot for a weekly status report.
5. Build a professional network. Madeline Albright recently said something like, "Women make friends and men network." Women earn 77% of what men do, so I would listen to Albright. Inside, outside, public sector, private sector. Hang out with people who can help you succeed. Online is fine. Volunteering your professional skills is a good way to give back and build a reputation. If you can't find a good organization, start one. It is important for the world to see that government employees can hold their own in any professional forum.
6. Show your value. Don't be falsely modest. Can you code? Code. Can you manage a project? Manage it. Can you write? Write something. Move forward aggressively. Remember what you learned and then share best practice with the world, being careful to respect boundaries and confidentiality, etc.
7. Be a team player. It's a small world and Washington is a small town. Don't be a backstabber or an information-hoarder. Share information as much as you can with your team, with your agency, with your professional network, etc. Team players are valuable and have an excellent reputation that precedes them.
8. Improve your agency through a dedicated network of passionate believers. There are some agencies that have outstanding brand value. All you have to do is say their name and you're "in." Others get less credit but do equally amazing work. Be a change agent on the inside by partnering with others who "get it." A rising tide lifts all ships.
9. Get engaged with the actual work your agency does and be passionate about it. You don't have the luxury of saying that you're a back-office support specialist. Read the darn newspaper. You must know at least three things about your agency that you can share.
10. Stand up for integrity and good government. No place is perfect but you don't have to accept the status quo as inevitable. If you see something say something (thanks DHS!) Very seriously, change begins only with the person. I find that GovLoop in particular is a great place to share one's thoughts, be challenged, and build consensus about the way forward, because we all do share a commitment to good government and moving forward to the future.
This isn't an exhaustive list, just some quick thoughts. Hope it's helpful.