Your job probably offers at least a few nice perks. But does it inspire you to go to work every day and think, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!”?
That might seem unrealistic—after all, work is work, right? But that pinch-me-I’m-dreaming feeling isn’t just reserved for movie stars, musicians and athletes. These stories demonstrate that no matter what your passion is, there’s probably a career path out there to match it. Of course, it’s up to you to make your dream job a reality, but you can draw ideas and inspiration from how these four did it.
Lauren Skonieczny works as an adventure guide and operations manager for Discover Outdoors, which coordinates outdoor adventures—think hiking, backpacking, kayaking and climbing—for city dwellers. She ensures that trips run smoothly, helps design and scout out new trips, supervises a team of guides and also works with the organization’s nonprofit Discover Outdoors Foundation.
How she got there: After completing a graduate degree in media studies in 2009, Skonieczny spent six years working in film and TV production. Although she’d begun to feel frustrated and unhappy with her job, she was totally unprepared when her company went under in 2013.
“Everyone told me losing my job would be the best thing that ever happened to me, but I always thought that was just something people were saying to make me feel better,” she says. “But they were right.”
It turns out it was just the push Skonieczny needed to finally pursue a career she loved. After the layoff, she spent a year working several part-time jobs: teaching spin classes, answering phones at the exercise studio and guiding tours for Discover Outdoors. When a full-time position at Discover Outdoors opened up, Skonieczny had enough experience to be the ideal candidate.
Why it’s a dream job: As an adventure guide, Skonieczny not only gets to participate (and introduce others to) one of her favorite pastimes, but she often gets to travel to familiar locales that are special to her, like the New Hampshire mountains, where she grew up hiking.
“My work day is spent talking about, thinking about and putting my energy toward something I love that, up until recently, I only ever thought would be a hobby,” she says. “The entire mission of Discover Outdoors is to show New Yorkers how great it is to get outside. Nothing beats being there when one of our hikers gets to the first summit, or completes a really tough trip, or pushes past what they thought was possible.”
Virtual reality has long been embraced by video game designers and enthusiasts who want to feel like they are “in” the game rather than just watching it. Michael Yohe and his team at Intuitive Research & Technology Corporation use the same technology to solve business problems.
For a military customer, for instance, they might create a virtual training environment for soldiers that looks and feels like a specific war zone. Or for a health care customer, they might create a virtual hospital environment with patients to train professionals on new procedures.
How he got there: In high school, Yohe visited NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. In a tour of the facilities, he got to experience an early virtual reality scene: “We got to play baseball with astronauts located several states away, using the Internet,” he says. “The environment was primitive, but the basic construct of the field was there, along with low-fidelity models of baseballs and a baseball bat.”
It was an experience Yohe never forgot. “I never thought that I would be where I am today, but [that experience] did help me see the potential of the Internet and how great distances become negligible barriers when we can connect computers,” he says.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in information technology, Yohe has worked with the same company for 10 years, starting as a software developer and moving into software architecting and cybersecurity. When asked if he wanted to start working in virtual reality development, he took the leap. “With one virtual reality project successfully completed, another came, and then another,” he says.
Why it’s a dream job: For Yohe, each day on the job is exciting and yields a feeling of accomplishment. “I am privileged to witness the creative ideas of so many different people coming together in a single immersive environment, and then witness our customers seeing our product come to life,” he says. “When you realize that your product can actually help save time, money and even lives, it delivers an immense sense of satisfaction.”
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