The Island of Lost is Real, and I Work There!

from The No Niche

The Island of Lost has a problem letting go

It’s a tough economy, and being an ’09 graduate, I have come to fully understand and experience the frustrating job market out there. May marked my one year anniversary of graduating from Temple University. I’m very aware of this anniversary, because I’ve now been unemployed for over a year. I’ve applied to over 40 jobs without even a whiff of employment. The other day I was denied from two employment opportunities. The first rejection e-mail came at the start of my afternoon, and the second at the end of my day.

So, in honor of my latest failure to land a job, and Lost’s departure from our television lives, I’ve decided to talk about what I call the Island Effect.

Lost centered around the lives of Oceanic flight 815 passengers who fatefully crashed onto a mysterious island they just couldn’t escape. No matter what their efforts, they found themselves on the coastline, staring out into an endless blue. Even when a few of them managed to get back to civilization (with beard and all), they inevitably found themselves back on the island, held by its unrelenting grasp.

Welcome to Angelino’s Restaurantmy island.

Angelino’s Restaurant has a problem letting go, too.

I crash landed into Angelino’s in November 2006 as a counter boy. I had to masquerade as both student and employee. I stood behind my counter for three years, answering phones, serving customers and doing homework. My class and work schedules often conflicted, and in my last year of school, I often had to choose between showing up to class and getting fired, or showing up to work and failing tests.

Angelino’s wasn’t somewhere I wanted to be, but as long as I needed cash, it was where I was fated to be.

And just like the survivors of Oceanic flight 815 in the first few episodes of Lost, I knew without a doubt that I would eventually be saved.

My “Someone will come for us!” was “Graduation will set me free!”

Well, it’s been over a year now, and that endless blue hasn’t gone anywhere.

I was supposed to fly away from Angelino’s on the wings of my bachelor’s degree. I, like any naive, recent graduate, told myself that I wouldn’t be at Angelino’s come that September.

That restaurant was my college job. It represented being stuck at the point in my life where I was still a kid able to use learning as an excuse to not yet have the job. It symbolized my inability to access the “real world.” But I need the money, right? Car payments…insurance…life. This, of course, doesn’t mean I have to stay at Angelino’s. I could go work at another restaurant, or in retail like I did at Borders for a few months. But, fundamentally, it wouldn’t make a difference. No matter if I’m at Borders, or restaurant B or C, they are all Angelino’s. They are all the same job. When the castaways reached Hydra Island, they were still trapped. It was still the island.

This is the Island Effect. No matter how many jobs I apply for, no matter the opportunities I take up, I end up back behind that counter, the paper and plastic bags the island’s grass beneath my feet.

Angelino’s does whatever it can to prevent me from leaving. A few weeks ago, my boss prohibited us all from reading and writing during work. This is a big dent to me, because having my books on the counter have lead to some great networking with customers. I’ve even gotten writing opportunities because of this.

So, like a true Jacob, my boss puts in measures that gravitates me to the counter, and has even told me that I’m wasting my time trying to have a life off the shores of Angelino’s.

I’m obviously not the only one feeling the Island Effect. When the economy went down, massive layoffs ensued. People who have worked 15-20 years in their profession are now applying for entry level jobs or selling coffee at Starbucks.

One of my co-workers had a job in his field, and his company was even going to pay for him to get his masters degree. Right before he was to start his classes, though, he was laid off, the sands of Angelino’s refusing to let him go.

Often, I find myself working with John Lockes on the island. They are the ones who have nested and adapted. Some of them even start to believe in the island, and refuse to leave, no matter how many master degrees they have. They have bought into the un-fullfilling safety that the island offers. Especially in this economy, those who may be stuck at that retail job, look at it as, “Well, I have a job. And that’s good enough.”

But I mustn’t buy into that.

I just don’t believe. I don’t believe I’ll forever be the steward of the counter. No matter how hard Angelino’s tries to convince me otherwise. I have to believe that somehow, someway the sideways notion that I will have an actual career is real.

“Pick up or delivery?” and the constant ringing phone are my button. I must keep answering that phone, must keep asking that question in belief that it’s all for a reason…that this job is all part of some cosmic master plan to land me my career.

My great fear is to have my career die on the counter of Angelino’s, and, instead of a dog, have it die next to my loyal- but usually not full- tip jar. Like on Lost, the Island Effect leads to desperation. But it does teach you about faith. It forces you to believe in yourself as long as you hold on to the desire to leave the island. You have to believe in yourself, and keep fighting, and keep paying your dues if you’re going to survive.

The moment you give in to the Island Effect, your career is truly lost.

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