There's no need to abandon childhood passions like animals, comic books and video and board games when adulthood calls.
As a child, Lisa Dabek spent hours watching animals at the Bronx Zoo. Allergic to cats and dogs, she had a pet turtle. She obtained a Ph.D. in animal behavior and conservation biology from the University of Washington, and today, at 55, she’s the director of the Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program.
“I’m so grateful I get to do this work, and make a difference in the world,” Dabek says. She works alongside zoo staff as they train animals and care for animal health, while she also heads to Papua New Guinea to help with tracking tree kangaroos in the wild.
Dabek is just one example of someone who didn’t abandon childhood dreams, but has instead found a way to make her youthful enthusiasm her career. Although there are grown-up duties as well, such as grant writing, donor meetings and report writing, her job is one her childhood self would approve of.
Others have incorporated youthful pastimes into adult careers. Emanuel Matthews, 26, has been playing video games his “whole life.” But for the past two and a half years, he has worked at video-game store Another Castle. He manages employees, sells games at convention booths and helps customers find the perfect retro and new games.
“I’m pretty passionate about video games, and that came through in the interview,” he says about getting the job. His experience as an assistant kindergarten teacher didn’t hurt, either.
Matthews loves helping parents or grandparents pick out games for their kids — or themselves. “I love customer interactions,” he says. “We have a lot of like-minded customers coming in and shopping for video games, who get really excited to talk about games.”
Nicole Lamb, 32, has worked at Comics Dungeon in Seattle’s U District for almost five years as a sales associate, mail order specialist, events coordinator and podcaster. She liked comics as a kid (Garfield and Archie, especially), but truly got into comic series as a teen and 20-something.
“I love the way comics tell stories,” Lamb says. “I used to make my own comics in high school,” as a way to express herself, leading to a long-term love of comics.
“When I was looking for a new job five years ago, I decided to look for something that I would be passionate about. I wanted to be part of the comics community and share that love with others,” she says.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s always fun. “Like any job, it can have its frustrating or stressful moments,” Lamb says. About what you’d expect — a crabby customer or too many tasks and not enough time.
“Ultimately though, I’m doing what I love, and that dissolves whatever frustrations I might have. I love our customers and my co-workers are fantastic, so all-in-all it goes down as my favorite job, hands-down,” she says.
Some aren’t selling comics or games — but making them. Shanon Lyon, 38, has been working with board games for 12 years, both for well-known brands such as Cranium and as a freelance game inventor. She enjoyed games as a child, but was well aware of their pitfalls.
“I have painful memories of really long games of Monopoly,” Lyon says. “I sort of fell into working on games as an adult, and fell in love with it.”
Becoming a game designer isn’t exactly child’s play, however. “I have a sort of odd mix of skills and interests that just seemed to fit really well with games. Working on games requires a lot creativity, problem-solving and collaboration.”
The career also requires fortitude; even the simplest game has a development point when all seems lost. “The process of creating it can be painful and oh-so-very messy,” she says. “But seeing the final product on the shelf that represents all those dark nights is really satisfying.”
Lyon’s zest for her career is undeniable. “I love watching kids and families play in-progress games and then working hard to make the games better based on what I saw. Seeing families and kids having fun together is the best reward of my job.”