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?


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  • 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.

    • 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..

  • 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.

    • QUOTE

      Courage. We all suffer. Keep Going

      –Graeme Fife

  • 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”.

  • 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).

    • 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.