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Kansas Citian And Former Worlds Of Fun Employee On Life After 'This American Life' Fame

Cody Newill
KCUR 89.3
Former Worlds of Fun games manager Cole Lindbergh was featured on This American Life five years ago. Tuesday he sat down with KCUR's Brian Ellison on Central Standard to share what he's been up to since the episode.

In 2011, Cole Lindbergh was 25 and working his dream job as the games manager at the Kansas City amusement park Worlds of Fun. He was walking over 20,000 steps a day, working 60-hour weeks, managing 100 teenage employees and couldn’t have been happier. But, Lindbergh was facing a dilemma: while incredibly happy with the job, it didn’t pay well and the hours weren’t good. It’s a problem that a lot of 25-year-olds could probably relate to, but unlike most, Lindbergh’s story was shared with about 2.1 million listeners on the weekly radio show, This American Life.


This week, Lindbergh sat down with KCUR’s Central Standard to reminisce on his time at Worlds of Fun, talk about the effects of the This American Life episode, and share what he’s up to now.


Lindbergh left his job at Worlds of Fun in February 2013. He says it was the hardest decision he’s ever had to make.


“I never thought there was a job for me outside of Worlds of Fun, I always thought this is my spot, I’m going to stay here. I want to work my way up, I want be in charge of this place,” Lindbergh says. “But, This American Life kinda showed me a little ... that ‘oh wait, there is more out there that you could do.’”


Today, Lindbergh is working for US Toy in the commercial division. He’s sells toys to amusement parks, arcades and other businesses across the country.


“I’ve gone from trying to get guests at Worlds of Fun to get prizes, now I’m trying to get the buyers at Worlds of Fun to buy prizes, so it’s just kinda the next step,” he says.


He misses working outside all day, but has enjoyed being able travel across the country and meet businesses and potential customers.


Last summer, he finished his college degree, which he put on hold when he took the job as games manager at 21. And, thanks to the publicity he received from This American Life, he’s doing some work as a motivational speaker.


Lindbergh was known for thinking of creative ways to motivate his employees. For example, he created a music video to the beat of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes," but changed the lyrics to encourage people to play games at World's of Fun.

  If you listen to the episode, it’s clear that Lindbergh had a blast doing his job and people took notice. After the episode aired, other amusement parks and businesses asked him to share his secrets.


“The only people holding you back from having fun at your job is yourself,” Lindbergh explained. “I’m a huge proponent that people should find something they like to do and go do it.”


His work life isn’t the only thing that has evolved since the show. Lindbergh says that the relationship mentioned in the This American Life episode ended, but he has a new girlfriend, and they even bought a dog together.


Lindbergh says that he hasn’t listened to the full This American Life episode in years. It chokes him up re-listening to some of the more personal moments of the show. Initially, Lindbergh didn’t even know he was the focus of the story. Ira Glass spent two full days at the park following him as he worked, but he thought the show was just about amusement parks. Later, when he asked his boss and employees about their interviews with Glass, they all had the same response:

“He was asking a lot of questions about you.”


The hardest part for him to listen to is when Glass asks him if the job has caused him to become ‘stuck’ and if he was afraid that this will be the best job of his life. Lindbergh says working at Worlds of Fun is still the best job he’s ever had, but it doesn’t depress him the way it did when he initially left Worlds of Fun. He looks a it differently now.


“I’ve started looking at it in a different way, not so much dwelling on ‘Oh no, I left the best job I’ve ever had. More like, ‘You know what, there are so many opportunities out there right now and the only thing that’s going to hold me back is me.’”


Instead of making him sad, Lindbergh says it motivates him to find a job that makes him even happier.