This time of year is when most college graduates will be struck with a dose of real world reality. Congratulations on the past four years of achievements. However, for some of you, the life of academia won’t seem to matter in the next coming months.  For graduates who have recently entered into or have been in “pause mode,” this is what they didn’t tell you about life after college.

By senior year of college, many students have figured out who they think they are.  For me, I had finally become confident in what I wanted to do in life in terms of career and where I wanted to live. I had a great group of girlfriends with whom I had shared the past few years of my life, and I’d even learned to love my body and love using it with guys whom I thought I loved. Little did I know that all I thought I knew would be completely irrelevant and useless while I spent the next few months suffering through one of the hardest periods of my life. I was a college graduate entering into the college of hard knocks.

Graduating a few years ago into post Bush administration America meant that my post college dream job would be a lot tougher to find despite having an awesome resume filled with appropriate internship experience and references. It also meant that instead of sharing an apartment with my friends in the city, I would be high-tailing it back home to explain to everyone what my fancy education didn’t get me—a job. While I wasn’t alone in my angst, I definitely felt like I was. All of my friends were scattered throughout the country, and life as I knew it had ended with a turn of a tassel.

In between searching for jobs, writing curse words in my journal and complaining to anyone who’d listen, my best friend and I decided to create a blog as an outlet for our frustration. She was also in the same predicament as I: bored, broke and boo-less. We agreed that a blog would be a way for us to channel our emotions and woe-is-me plight since our families no longer listened, as well as a great way to keep in touch and maintain some form of stimulating conversation about world events and celebrity gossip.

Pause Mode became not only our now defunct blog title, but also an expression that described the period in our lives where we felt both hopeless and optimistic, sure and uncertain, normal and borderline insane. It was the point in which life as we knew it ended and began anew. It was our life, but in pause.

pause mode:

-noun, -adjective

1. To be stagnant.

2. A feeling of mediocrity; a mundane existence.

3. To have graduated from a prestigious university in a joke-of-a-job-market without a job or with a joke-of-a-job not befitting aforementioned swanky degree.

Money: That on-campus, work-study weekly paycheck doesn’t mean a thing when real rent is due. Mother, sister, cousin, uncle all have bills to pay, and the roof over your head isn’t free. Finding a job isn’t as easy as you once thought, and you certainly have worked too hard to settle for something you’re not passionate about.  You’ve made Dean’s List time and again, fed orphans in Africa, marched in Pride Parades in more than one city, studied with NASA and were inches away from flying to the moon … in college. But now, you’d be lucky to get a job at the Macy’s make-up counter—your Arabic is useless for ringing up MAC and Bobbi Brown.

Your first adult job as a college graduate leads you to take extended bathroom breaks where in which you sit aimlessly on the toilet, staring at the stall door while tapping your feet and buzzing your lips. While this is not what you expected, it is your reality. Be grateful and humble that you are able to earn a living, even if it isn’t what you see yourself doing forever. In most instances, if you’re smart, you will learn something from the job you hate so much and about yourself that will help you in your future endeavors and career.

Dating: You justified your last walk-of-shame because the guy majored in biomedical engineering, and his father was a senator from a red state. This time, the guy supersized your number one for free, and complimented your vintage messenger bag. Dating in college is a lot different from dating after college. An invitation to dinner at the dining hall followed by a late night stroll on the quad equals lots of sock on the door extra credit. Sadly, that won’t fly when the cutie from Wendy’s asks you to stay after-hours for a frosty.

Requiring a guy to call and ask you on a date versus texting you does not make you a diva; it means you have self-esteem. Esteem of the mother flipping self is critical after college especially when dating. Just because your life is in pause and transitioning into something wonderful and new, does not mean you have to lower your standards. Just because you are currently unemployed does not mean that you ought to make a habit of dating the unemployed. You are ambitious and educated and should expect the same of your suitors.

Emotions: You may find yourself in a state-of-mind which you have never known.  Psychiatrists call it depression; I call it survival. When Whiskey Wednesday rolls around, and there’s no one there to accompany you to happy hour, the chemicals in your body may become unbalanced. You may find yourself knocking your head against the wall, legs crossed atop the bed in which you slept in high school. Many of the friends who attended secondary school with you have moved, become parents, have changed or worse, not changed at all. Memories of basement beer pong tournaments and drunken cab rides home from parties become taunting ghosts of college past. You are not crazy; you are a college grad.

Acknowledge that your family may not understand what you’re going through or may have different expectations for you now that you’ve returned home. They may find you to be ungrateful, snobby, lazy, picky, and unwavering. You may even start to believe them. But remember what got you that degree—your relentlessness. Don’t give up on yourself and your dreams, but understand that your path to your final destination may be mapped out completely different than how you imagined. All of the feelings you feel are normal. Go easy on yourself, work hard, and practice patience. Your life in pause mode will soon pass.

What are some of your post-grad “pause mode” stories?


  • EmpressDivine

    Damn this is my life…

  • African Mami

    Cursing like a sailor, and frowning at any man that looked remotely anything like Bush or Cheney! Fuckem.

  • Kay

    I dread entering “pause mode” after I graduate from university! But I do think pause mode is a good time to volunteer so that you may feel productive while working for a worthy cause. Hopefully volunteering was started during college, but it’s never too late to begin since help is always needed.

  • LN

    I LOVE this. I’m 26, graduated college 5 years ago, and I STILL feel this way. I hate to say this, but I think college really sets you up for disappointment. It’s such a constantly stimulating, exciting experience; you’re traveling the world, you’re constantly learning things that interest you, you’re exploring youself sexually, you’re at the peak of idealism. And then… you graduate and join the billions of adults worldwide who are just trying to get by. And there’s not much exciting or stimulating about that.

    Although I’m generally happy with my life, I still feel vaguely let down and disappointed.

    Being married is no where as heady or romantic as dating is.
    Working a job is no where as stimulating or exciting as studying your major is.
    And paying bills — on TOP of debt — is just downright depressing.

    Now that I’ve hit my late 20s, and my husband and I are finally making better money, there’s a bit more room to do exciting things like travel. But it still doesn’t match the excitement of college by a long-shot.

  • Erin

    I feel like this article literally poured out of my own head and onto Clutch. Thank you for this. I and my friends are battling this right now.

  • c.shatelcooper

    i graduated almost two months ago and i totally feel this way. after graduating, you feel completely on top of the world because you’ve been encouraged and told that you are the future and you can do anything you want, but because of our nation’s current economic situation, you have to be realistic. nothing will ever amount to the experiences i had in undergrad, but i’m just as excited to be starting my life in the real world.

  • Whitney

    I’m living in pause mode right now. I know my family thinks that I am being lazy, but I at least I have a degree with two minors. I told them before I graduated that I would take the year off for a much-needed break. Now that my year is up, I’m hoping…no..I will be accepted into a graduate program for the fall! I need to continue my education because my degree was tailored to me going to medical school. Medical school is still my goal, but the Master’s degree that I am pursuing will greatly help me in the long run since I want to own my own clinic.

  • bk chick

    Yess! Thank you for this article. Its been a year and some months since I’ve graduated and it’s like college is this crazy high, and you come crashing down into the real world. I have been fortunate enough to find work in my career field, but you don’t realize how petty and idiotic people can actually be. I’ve had several bosses who operated in the realm of feelings as opposed to judging their employees on merit.

    The real world workplace involves complicated politics and you basically have to position yourself to come across as “likable” in order to secure your place or stand out in the work place. This matters above anything else. It’s so different from college, because in school if you study hard, you get an A. It’s that easy and straight forward, it doesn’t really matter if your professor likes you or not. In the real world it is a lot more ambiguous and that’s the more confusing part.

    Add that to my frustration with living with my mom, but being mentally capable of independence… It feels like I’m going crazy! lol

  • Kay

    Good luck in grad school, Whitney!

  • Gorgeous Spice

    I think i have learnt more about myself and how to deal with life in the year after college (university) than the three years I spent studying for my degree. Life is hard and I didn’t stop being entitled until i turned 21 and had to fend for myself.

  • Najat

    Great point! I have often felt like there were personalities in the work place that I flat out should not have to tolerate. Guess that’s not the case! Lol

  • chanela

    this article confused me a bit. on the money section is says “be grateful and humble that at least you’re able to make a living even if you cant see yourself working there forever” yet when a guy who works at wendy’s asks you out then you’re supposed to not lower your standards… even though YOU Are unemployed?? he has an income though…since when was WORKING at a fast food place considered unemployed?? working at wendy’s or mcdonalds doesnt mean that its that person’s ambition in life. its getting them by THEY have a job YOU dont so why look down on someone just cause of where they temporarily work at?? especially if you yourself are broke and jobless. wtf? i’m lost.

  • chanela

    this is why i side-eye people who criticize and act all snobby when they say that you wont have a life if you dont go to college… you wont have a life AFTER you go to college. if anything you end up in lots of debt from the student loans you have to pay. nobody is even hiring right now in most states so college isnt everything.

    i’m currently not in college cause i still dont know what i want to do in life yet and i’m not gonna waste money spending 4 years in school just to not even work in what i majored in.people go HARD on the snobbiness when they ask what college (usually they say university with an asshole tone) i attend and when i explain my situation then they scowl and say ” oh you need to be in college or else you’ll end up being nothing in life”

  • Maria

    LORD! Clutch articles always seem to be perfectly timed with my circumstances. I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in trying to navigate through “pause mode”.

  • minna k.

    I completely agree with this point.

  • Najat

    Wow, I completely missed that when reading it. I agree!

  • Lulu

    pause mode is especially horrible in this rough economy. at one point, i was pretty much stuck at home babysitting my rowdy nieces and my brother and SIL didn’t care because hey I was always available…the best I could do was a volunteer job in a career related position…I had the freedom to do this because I lived at home and it gave me experience and great chance to network. Pause mode is hell though, it really is because you feel like you’re stuck in a room with no way out and everything is falling in on you. I’m actually now going back to school for a career that is in demand where I live and something that I am very interested and personally invested in.

    I think things are getting better and I think many of us are just finding very alternate routes after being so fed up. I have friends in the same boat as me that are now teaching abroad, have opened their own businesses..etc. Many have gone back to school and some that have kept chugging at the job search are beginning to find decent jobs.

    I try to keep up with what’s going on in the economy and long term the news is grim but I’m going to keep working at a future. Stay strong my brothers and sisters!!!

  • Lulu

    I dunno, maybe it’s because I had an older brother with an awesome college life that graduated before me and warned me to “stay in college as long as I can” amongst other things, I was very well aware that college was a very unique experience that was completely seperate from anything the real world could ever be. I think for those of us that have and will graduate during this great recession (soon to be depression? *sigh*) the transition has been extremely traumatic.

  • Recent Grad

    Words cannot express my gratitude for this article. I was beginning to go crazy! Thank you

  • Yikes it’s Me

    I agree….I feel like one of my friends wrote this…even though I have managed to stay afloat in this horrible job market I miss the good ol days…

  • Stuck[in]Limbo

    How did you know?? It’s actually kind of crazy how much this matches my life even down to “[feeding] orphans in Africa” LOL. Also seeing how many others are going through the same thing reassures me that there is hope and maybe this is normal. Thanks so much for this article.

  • Kaybee

    Great article! This has been my life for the past couple’s finally looking better..nice to know other people are in the same boat..

  • Domino

    There’s a beautiful series of paintings that depicts “pause mode”. Its called The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole. The first painting is of a happy baby being guided through a river over looked by a guardian angel, the next is a young man who is still looked over by the angel and in the distance he sees a magnificent castle in the clouds. But its an illusion. And when he reaches it, it disappears and he is faced with white rapids and stormy clouds and he’s praying to God to save him. There is no angel. The final painting is of an old man, he’s finally reached calm waters and the heavens open and the angels call him home. Its one of the most poignant pieces of art ever. If you live in DC its at the National Gallery of Art and its beautiful in person. My mom always cries every time she sees it.

    I skipped college and I’m in the real world at 20. I’ve made it so far without a degree but you hit a wall and you have to go back to school. I got $500 in financial aid. I feel immense sadness for our generation. We’ve been sold so many lies and now many of my friends are mired in debt for the rest of their lives at such young ages. Parents who can never retire because they didn’t plan every aspect of their lives correctly from 20 years old. Out here in the real world you get that feeling “is this all there is?” all the time. Never enough money, never enough time, not enough jobs, not enough experience, not enough school, not enough credit, it seems there’s never enough of something all the time. c’est la vie.

  • younglove

    Well I must say, you really sound like you have done a lot, and I hope you find something soon!
    All colleges graduates are suffering, well the majority, I’m a sophomore at the moment but I have heard the stories of not finding a decent job that is related to your degree. Just the other day my sister told me that a a bachelors degree won’t get you as far anymore, which is why its great to get a masters or higher. So hopefully in time, this economy can get on the good foot.

  • Monica

    I think the whole Wendy’s thing is a reminder to not settle. Don’t forget that you do have a degree and all ur hard work. There is a difference between dating someone who currently works at a Wendys and dating someone who will always be working at Wendys. At least that’s what I took away from the writers point. ANd I agree.

  • Adrien

    This article is so true…I’m just exiting my pause mode but isn’t lightening quick. I think a big thing is that in University/College our independence and self direction isn’t being beaten down with the ‘realities’ of real life. Once out, most people cave to the pressure…I really liked Steve Job’s commencement speech on this note. “Do something you love (my own insert: even if it’s only part of the task on the whole)…and if you haven’t found it, keep looking. Don’t Settle!”

  • Lish

    This was a great article but before those who did not go to college and put those of us who were hitting the books for four years say “I told you so!” …CHILL!…College is what you make it and life after college is what you make it. Things may not be perfect right after you turn that tassel but that all depends on what you go to school for. My Pause Mode took about two years but things seem to be falling into place and the same cam be said for those who are in my inner circle. You have to remain faithful and possess positive energy believe me its so very important.

  • lingering_in_pause_mode

    Um, there’s nothing wrong with texting. I’ve always hated non-business related calls. I’m a writer–I personally much prefer to email/text/send FB messages. *side eye*

  • Used to Do

    I’m preparing for pause mode myself actually. I recently graduated in May and have decided to take a year off but I have about 10 back up plans just in case. Though I cannot withstand all the unpredictable obstacles that will occur, at least I can attempt to prepare myself.

  • RenewingOfMind

    This article resonates deep within my heart. I too have experienced the depression, the remorse, the impasse. For three years I have been stuck in ‘pause mode’. Fortunately, a few months ago I had an epiphany and resolved to develop myself, my skills, my focus on life; and now I have the will to press on and anticipate my future………………………

  • LN

    @chanela… Girl, don’t rush into it! There are so many alternatives to a 4-year-college experience. Community colleges are becoming a great alternative. They are cheaper, plus they allow greater flexibility if you want to work and go to school at the same time.

    It’s funny because I view the housing bubble very much the same way I view the ‘college bubble’. Millions of people are investing in it without that they might be pouring their money into a worthless product.

    I definitely think college is very important, but I now believe that its importance has been wildly overstated.

    @Lulu… I graduated right before the recession hit, and ITA. It is a very traumatic transition. I’ve witnessed people turn to stripping, construction work, day labor, ANYTHING to pay the bills during this time. I wish colleges did a better job of preparing graduates for a tough job market and a rapidly changing world! My college didn’t even have a decent career services department until the semester before I left! What kind of mess is that??

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  • EbonyMapleLeaf

    @ LN:
    Totally agree with you about the “college bubble”. For the last 3 decades or so, academia set itself up as the guardian between education and the workplace. For many jobs these days you need at least a Masters while the ironic and rather sad part is that about 20 years ago, these same jobs didn’t require a degree at all. What ever happened to on the job training ( as you train, you learn, while getting paid at the same time). To make matters worse, the economy is bummed out while the gov’t and private banks issue toxic student loans unabated. Hate to say this but these pause moments are going to get longer and much worse for many more people.

  • Amber

    This my life! I lucked out and was able to stay in school until August instead of the usual May, which gave me time to land an internship and get crackin on my job search. Sadly, my internship is almost up, and no companies are interested in my resume, so now I’m stuck moving back into my parent’s house for the time being

  • Les

    This article is everything. I’ve been in pause mode for longer than I’d like to admit, and it’s great to read an article from someone who has gone through something similar. This was really helpful and motivating.

  • belljar

    i ran thru college… studying my whole colelge life away because i was told that it would all pay off … i had no life…no friends and spent most of my time studying alone in my room.. now im graduated and unemployed … my family doesn’t get it because they grew up in a different era…. i feel worthless and i see no future..everyday is a constant struggle not get a razor blade slash my wrists and sit in a warm tub and die.

  • shaymead

    I think it depends on what environment you grew up in. Me growing up in the hood always in hard times, I definitely knew the difference between college experiences and having to survive in the real world. I knew that back home I usually had to work everyday so there was no late night drunk partying and we never had the money to travel the world in the first place. So I knew full well to cherish any experiences I had when I was away. Because there was no life at home.


    Courage. We all suffer. Keep Going

    –Graeme Fife

  • MissIndependent

    I know the feeling. I am stuck in pause mode, holding position, etc. I get frustrated when parents and family members say I should have a better job, because I have a degree. Everybody expects me to be working in my field. I feel like saying you get one and how quick you get a job. I am debating on going back, because if you are not over qualified, you are under qualified. Sigh..

  • E. Wilson

    I graduated this past May with my MA degree and have been in pause mode for the past 2 months (although it has felt like 2 years). The worse thing about being unemployed and back in my parents’ house is the feeling of failure that lurks up on you from time to time. I believed in the American dream: work hard in school, complete an excellent internship, and graduate at the top of your class = a great career and life, right? I was wrong, and seeing my life not turn out the way I planned made me angry at the world. My parents were bootstrappers who moved to this state with virtually nothing and built themselves up to a middle class life, so it’s hard for them to understand. I’ve become selfish to the point where I can even cheer for my friends who are doing well after graduation, because deep down, I wish it was me. We are told as college students that education is the path in escaping poverty, yet when reality sets in, we realize that we are the new kind of poor class: educated, qualified, and broke.

    I don’t really have any sound advice for people in transition, but I think it’s important to treat job-hunting as a traditional 9 to 5 and stay positive. Staying above depression will require a lot of energy, so we have to take time to work on inner healing. Lately, I’ve dived into yoga, meditation, and going to the gym on a daily basis. I’ve started reading more fiction b/c I’ve grown sick of reading articles about how the economy. Going to the movies and enjoying my alone time has also been a great escape for me. For example, I highly recommend “Larry Crowne”.

  • Thandiwe

    That Emotional part almost had me in tears. I really feel depressed. I’m 2.5 years out and I am definitely in Pause Mode. I NEED to be back in school for a Master’s degree in this “joke-of-a-job-market” Dealing with low pay and people who do not nurture in the workplace is depressing.

    I was always the youngest person in my group of friends due to my maturity and goals. Thus, man of my friends are now lawyers, nurses and the like. Me, I’m a doing entry level social work. the work is good, but stressful and I know I could be doing a lot more if I get another degree. I’m definitely in pause mode from stress and doubting my abilities to compete in graduate school. PRAISE GOD that I have my girls to be my sounding board (as I am theirs).

  • Iknwthefeeling

    I graduated in 09 and I have for sure been in pause mode! I graduated with my BSBA in Accounting/Communications and I never figured that 3 years later I would still be an intern. The emotional part for me is so real too. I remember sitting alone eatting dinner at a resturant and the whole time I was thinking,” Wow, this is what my life is”. You imagine your life so different while in college. It like being in a dream and then you get hit by reality.

    Which I knew was coming but really to be looking for a job 3 years later. I mean what are you supposed to do? I don’t want a job thats not in my planned career goal but I am getting to the point where any job is a good job.

  • Wildside

    Same crap with me. Except, recently, I found out a girl I spent the last half of my HS days trying to find died in a car accident while attending college (actually the same one I went to, ironically). I always said I would finish the unfinished business. I’m just so disgusted about everything. I live for the big challenges, the improbable, the beautiful. There is no other way.

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