We had the good fortune of connecting with Jake Johnson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jake, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
What connects you to nature? Is it kicking back on a tropical beach listening to the continuous loop of ocean waves? Packing up the gear and escaping for an outdoor adventure? Maybe you love exotic animals and plan trips around seeing them? Everyone has that unique connection to the natural world that makes them feel alive, yet we don’t often see ourselves as a part of that world. We disconnect our lives from it and live in the “human world” known as society. After graduating college, I really started to question the things that we, as humans, prioritized. Our society is one where economic growth is more important than the health of our planet and distraction is easier than reality. We take things like clean air and water for granted, and turn a blind eye to the rate at which biodiversity is declining. We’re currently the biggest driving force in the sixth mass extinction of our planet and most of us are just sleep walking through it. After some time, I started to realize the power in which individuals like Leonardo DiCaprio have when it comes to influence. Leading climate scientists can put the warnings out there all they want, but people listen when it’s someone they look up to. Someone who has a platform. After reading the quote by Alice Walker, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”, it just clicked. If I was so passionate about seeing people value the natural world, then I had to be my own influence and lead by example. The Dreamers Initiative was born out of that realization and is on a path to having its own platform. While we, at The Dreamers Initiative, want to make genuine change, we also aspire to bring individual action into the hands of everyday people. By creatively fusing entertainment and education through positivity, action and adventure, we believe that we can all begin to bridge the gap between the human world and the natural world, developing the coexistence necessary for our planet’s future. We are fortunate enough to live in a time where virtually anyone can spread their message. Whether it be through social media, YouTube or other platforms, we consider ourselves to be influencers and educators who are deeply rooted in storytelling and community engagement. Creativity inspires us and action drives us.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
While The Dreamers Initiative is my inner passion I am pursuing, I can’t say enough about my professional experience thus far as a zookeeper. When I went to college I had a very difficult choice to make. Do I do something safe or follow my heart? I chose the latter and that decision has helped shape me into the individual I am now. All of the things I have learned during this time are things that I apply to myself and our brand at The Dreamers Initiative. I was lucky enough to first land a position at Brookfield Zoo working in the primate department, had a brief stint at Lincoln Park Zoo working with great apes and then headed back to Brookfield in a higher position with the primate department. The zoo world is a very competitive career. Those who choose this path know that the pay is lower and the positions are limited, therefore it’s hard to make your way in and even more difficult to rise up. While I could (and have) answered the hundreds of questions about this unique position, I’d rather focus this time to look at the broader categories that I think can be applicable to any individual in any workplace. On day one of being a zookeeper I worked with western lowland gorillas. WOW! Being that close to a 450 lbs. male silverback gorilla gave me a feeling I never thought would get old, but as with anything you do enough, I got used to it. I believe that in life, the ultimate goal is to never get complacent, as that is the death of creativity. So while the “wow factor” of working with exotic animals did eventually wear off, I started focusing on new projects that would allow us to better understand our animals and ultimately provide them with a more natural and enriching life. Keep moving forward. I am fortunate enough to have worked with a very diverse and talented group of individuals at both Brookfield and Lincoln Park. The attitude I take into work is to be both positive and like a sponge. I want to learn from these individuals, soaking up their knowledge and expertise, while also bringing a bright and fresh energy to the day. While a lot of the information I have learned is work-related, I can also say I’ve learned so many life lessons just by asking questions and being open-minded. While you don’t have to soak up everything, take the things that are meaningful to you and apply them to your life. One final piece of advice I’d like to give is to be “there” when you’re at work. While it isn’t always possible to leave the many stresses of life at the door as you walk in, I suggest trying your hardest to live in the moment. Whether you are happy with your career choice or not, each and every day is a day you’re alive. Some people live their whole lives chasing the end of the workday, the weekend or even retirement. I think people sometimes get lost in a rut for weeks, months or even years then all of the sudden be like, “woah my life is passing me by and I’m just watching it happen”. If it has already happened, let it go and start fresh. Find meaning in the moments and live everyday as if it’s your last. To sum up my professional experience and advice, I’d say to first follow your heart. If you’re not in the career you want to be in then change it, as only you have control of you. Second, don’t get complacent. If you are good at your job and it is starting to become routine, find something new to push yourself and your organization forward. Companies want that dedicated employee and will likely recognize and reward your enthusiasm. Third, choose positivity and be curious. It is crazy the impact you can have on your own life, as well as others, if you simply choose positivity in the moments that happen. It’s not always easy, but is often a better approach. Learn from your co-workers and allow their experiences to help you. Finally, don’t be a passenger in your own life. Take control of what you’re doing and live in the moment, as you never know which moment could be your last.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
For starters, these are all things that would happen in a pre/post-COVID world. I live in Wrigleyville, home of the Chicago Cubs, so you know we’re going to a game, but I’d try to do a little mix of everything. Day one I would take them to one of my favorite places to grab a deep dish pizza, The Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. After food, maybe do a little sightseeing around the city, as Chicago does have so many cool things to see. Over the course of the next few days, I’d love to travel to at least a couple of big name places such as The Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo, Brookfield Zoo and the Morton Arboretum. These are some of my favorite places to spend a day. The highlight of the trip would be the Cubs game. Murphy’s Bleacher Bar beforehand for some drinks and food and then walk right into the stadium for game time. It doesn’t get better than that for a baseball fan. Finally, I’d also like to travel somewhere outside the city, such as Starved Rock State Park for a day full of adventure and possibly filming.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I can’t say enough positive words for the support, encouragement and mentorship I have received from Running Wild Media, specifically their co-founder Justin Grubb. Justin and I studied abroad together in Baja California for just 10 days. During that time he was able to see my passion and enthusiasm, providing the spark needed to send me down my own path. I had always dreamed of doing something like Justin was, following his heart and pursuing his passions. So when I saw that reality in front of me, I had to go get it. Throughout the difficult process of starting a business while balancing work and personal life, Justin has been there for me to provide guidance and reassure the grind. His direction and vision as an educator, influencer and friend has helped me more than he may even know. Wildlife enthusiasts understand the difficult collective mission we have ahead of us, therefore I aspire to one day be that mentor to others as he was to me.