Since you asked, I'll describe a bit what lead me down the path to my current career in robotics: Graduating with a degree in Computer Engineering in the late 80's my career has since been all over the map. I've done real-time embedded system design on phone switches, moved to application development on held devices back when they were called "pen computers", then multimedia applications for the web, then Internet search engine development when the .com boom was in full swing and finally Linux application development. Having an interest in robotics since childhood and facing a mid-life career crisis, I finally resolved to break into the robotics field. Like you, I'm very much a 12-year old at heart and it was long past time to satisfy my desire to play and tinker rather than "work" work.
Over the course of a few years I brushed up on embedded system design, joined local robotics clubs and built a few well functioning hobby robots to demonstrate good problem solving abilities in this field. This got me rubbing shoulders and associating with people already in the industry doing what I wanted to do professionally. The final step was keeping my ears open opportunities to step in an solve some problems related to robotics on a modest budget and in a short amount of time -- something people are always looking for. People with big budgets and lots of time can afford to be picky, and generally are. Taking advantage of these opportunities opened the doors for me to turn my hobby into a career. I'm now doing the things I would be tinkering at home on, but now for a paying client -- something that satisfies my inner 12-year-old and keeps my wife happy.
Perhaps things are a bit easier in Silicon Valley or the Boston area for robotics careers, but I suspect that there are interesting opportunities in the NYC area or in any major metropolitan area in the U.S. The trick is to figure out where the local watering holes are where people who are doing things what you want to do are hanging out. Could be a robotics club, a hacker space, a university, a maker's faire, or whatever. Find those places and do something on your own time and effort that will generate interest and attention. Become friends with the people who might one day hire you and the rest will almost certainly take care of itself.
Personally, I've never had luck in my career applying for a job I wanted through traditional channels -- ie. giving my resume to an HR wonk and having it yield results. Either I don't know how to sell myself correctly on paper or I don't have the right credentials regardless of relevant experience. Rather, I find it much easier to establish personal relationships at a social level and then leverage those to get the jobs that interest me.
Finally, don't sell yourself short. Such negative thinking can permeate everything you do. I know because I've been there myself. Spend 80% of your time making sure you doing what is necessary to keep a roof over your head and taking care of your family, but spend the other 20% of your time following your passions. Just really make that 20% count and the other 80% won't be such a bother. Good luck.