Learning to Light the World on Fire

Sometimes, you just need to listen to your gut.

A few years ago, I was working at a big four accounting firm. I kept my head down, crunching numbers into my excel spreadsheets. I knew there was a bigger world out there, but it seemed so distant. I knew my world. And that’s all I needed.

Or so I thought.

Despite having everything I needed, something nagged at me. My reality of a budding career in corporate America was constantly at war with my buried, tucked-away dreams. The ‘what-if’s’ persistently pounded on that wall of possibility and wouldn’t go away.

So I did what any normal person would do: I took a three-month sabbatical from my job and booked a ticket to Cambodia – a faraway, exotic land rich with history and seemingly free of western capitalism. A place that embodied everything other than what my current life held. I wouldn’t realize the important role my subconscious played in my emphatically contrasting decision until much later on.

A few airplane and tuk tuk rides later, I found myself in Siem Reap.

Malaysia_Cambodia 017Despite never having done it before, I had arranged a volunteer teaching assignment at a few orphanages there. I mean, how difficult could it be?

Turns out, it wasn’t the teaching that was difficult, but accepting the deplorable living conditions that these children endured. The teaching room doubled as a bedroom – after I left, the desks were simply moved out of the way and dirty mattresses were thrown down on the floor. Spiders the size of my fist covered the walls.


On the very same streets lined with tourist populated bars and restaurants, children with tattered clothes and no shoes somehow survived, left without food for days; scores of children living in garbage dumpsters, unprotected from the risk of human trafficking so widespread in Cambodia. Suddenly, it was like I was violently shaken awake from my slumber of indifference that had previously governed my life.Malaysia_Cambodia 211

I taught there, in filthy orphanage rooms, for several weeks, doing anything I could to help those children in so much need; the kids with no one standing in their corner.

Yet, despite the bare living conditions and a lack of anything even remotely comfortable, I watched something incredible, something inconceivable, happen: the children shone with enthusiasm through it all. They lit up when they learned something new; their passion, their excitement, their energy…just in learning English from a foreigner. Well, that’s something you can’t really put a dollar sign on. You can’t even write those feelings into words. That’s something that can melt even the most hardened heart.


That trip, it’s what changed everything.

Travel can be transformative in the most unimaginable ways. You can go to a place not expecting anything at all, and return home with a vision clearer than you’ve ever had. You look at everything differently. You appreciate things more. You never knew your smile could grow that big. You learn that simplicity can be beautiful. Your patience grows and your needs diminish. You experience deep human connections and finally understand life beyond existence.

Mayra 8.26.08 204Cambodia - Mayra 008

It’s impossible not to.

So how did this particular story end? Well, the short version includes starting a non-profit to sponsor the kids I taught, which eventually grew into other sponsorships, and the ability to support underprivileged children throughout the world in obtaining a meaningful education. I eventually quit my job and went off, exploring the world, living the life I had always dreamed of. Walking The Camino de Santiago; plucking grapes while volunteering at a vineyard in Tuscany; jumping off cliffs in Croatia and Santorini; floating in the sky on a hot air balloon in Cappadocia; volunteering at a jungle house in Florianopolis; rappelling down a 16 story building in a spiderman costume in La Paz; staying in a convent in Piura, consulting for the very same non-profit and sponsoring local Peruvian children; surfing the Mancora waves; sand boarding down the dunes of Huacachina; exploring the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu…and this story has really only just begun.

That nagging, the one I told you about at the beginning of this story, it happened for a reason. I was meant to travel the world. I was meant to experience the power of global exploration and the change that comes with it. I needed that push to catapult me into the life I’m proud of living right now.

Everyone’s transformation is different. I know this only because I’ve spent the last two years talking to other travelers and learning about their stories. Maybe the catalyst was a corporate restructuring; maybe it was a breakup. Whatever the reason – embrace it. Follow it. You don’t know the effect it might have.


Take that chance.

Live a life you’re proud of.

Live beyond existence.

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