The Answer

Since the moment I decided to pack up and move to South Korea, I encountered a broken record of recurring questions from all of my friends and family: “Why are you doing this? Why are you going so far? Why South Korea?” While I’ve managed to inform some of you through face to face discussions, I am overdue on starting my blog, so why not start here? Right now. By answering your questions. We may as well start at the beginning. But be forewarned, the following narrative is an attempt at complete and absolute honesty; I’ve effectively bared my soul for you to peruse over on the next few pages.

All my life, I’ve done what I was told. Getting straight A’s, applying myself with a nerdy dedication in anything I committed to doing. I guess I thought that if I followed society’s rules, I would be happy. You know those societal rules I’m talking about: you do well in school and get good grades, you get into a great college. You do well in college and you land a great job. You get a great job, make lots of money, and the equation always ends in happiness.  So off I went, applying to colleges. Wishing to one day be a Harvard alum and a well respected corporate mogul in New York City with a fancy corner office. I genuinely thought this was what I wanted back then. Then reality set in when I realized that my perfect GPA meant nothing without a perfect SAT score at Ivy league schools; not to mention the hefty price tag. So I became a scholarship kid at a local private school.  Still quite pricey, but significantly more do-able considering the scholarships covered nearly 90% of my tuition.  When the dreaded day of choosing a major finally arrived, I logically made the decision to choose Finance. Clearly that made sense (insert: sarcasm), because I was good at math and liked working with numbers. Naïve decision number 1.  I sat through endless finance and economics classes, doing quite well in all of them, but was literally bored out of my mind. I would study to pass the tests, but I never enjoyed reading the material. I never enjoyed calculating present value or discussing put or call options. I did it simply because I had to, and I understood it clearly enough to score myself some good grades.

I graduated early, quite proud of myself. Looking back, the 30 year-old Mayra I am now would have screamed to my 20 year-old self: “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? Go to Europe! Seize your life and spend a semester abroad; live on the edge; stop being so nerdy for once and throw caution to the wind!” But no. I was too focused on jump starting
my career, making the big bucks, and living the life society had promised me. Since I had followed all of its rules to a T.

In the years that followed, from the outside looking in, I can see how people might have thought I led a charmed life. Owning my first place at 23, driving around in my dream car (for all you who – while I don’t quite understand how – aren’t as obsessed with my car as I am, my mini was my dream car), traveling the world, and spoiling myself just enough that I had everything I wanted or needed. I really did have it all. Oh, except for just one thing: I wasn’t happy. I would wake up everyday hoping it would be the day that I would absolutely love my job and know I was doing exactly what I should be doing. But that day never came. My equation never equaled happiness. Even though all the factors in the  formula were seemingly right.

At this point, I need to digress because I know I sound like a spoiled brat. It’s important for me to acknowledge that I’ve been exceedingly lucky to have had the opportunities I’ve had from an employment perspective. I’ve worked for 3 of the world’s largest multinational organizations in their industry; I’ve had the chance to meet with people who have since become my closest friends; and I’ve had the opportunity to network, travel and learn more than I ever could have imagined. I want the record to state that I am not, and will never be, ungrateful for those opportunities. It was precisely these places
that led me to where I am today.  It was just that Mayra Barragan was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I didn’t belong. I knew it since my college days, but I didn’t want to accept it, and would force myself to spend the next 10 years in Corporate America…  because I wasn’t about to quit everything I’d worked so hard for.

Despite my knowing how fortunate I was – to have a job when so many people were losing their employment, to work for a solid company and make a comfortable salary – all of it started becoming less and less important. I no longer seemed to care about how much money I could make, or how quickly I could climb that corporate ladder. I was more concerned with how I could start over and live each day being happy. Not just content. Really, truly, happy.

You see, in my eyes, there are three types of people in this world:

1) The person who’s found their soulmate, their true love, the one person who fills their heart with joy….yet these people don’t exactly love their job. But since they are so happy and fulfilled personally, it’s enough for them and they settle professionally. They don’t love going to work, but they don’t mind it because when they get home, their true love is waiting for them.

2) The person who lives for their job. Their work is their passion, and they love getting up and going to work everyday. They’ve somehow managed to crack the elusive code that so many of us have yet figure out: the delicate balance between what they’re actually good
at, and what they truly enjoy doing.  They haven’t found their true love, but its okay because they are so fulfilled with their work. And that’s enough for them.

3) The person who has neither found the one person to complete their puzzle, nor discovered their personal calling, their passion. I fall under this third category.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am here in South Korea. I’m searching for my
passion. My personal legend, as Paolo Coelho would call it.

I didn’t know much, but I did know a few things before I left: I knew I wanted to get away
from the corporate world for a while, or maybe even permanently. I knew I wanted to be in Asia to be closer to the non profit we just incorporated to educate orphaned kids in Cambodia. I knew I wanted to do something that would allow me to work with people. Not
just type away on my computer, preparing excel spreadsheets all day long. Real human interaction. What better way to feed the need for human contact than to teach little kids in South Korea? A country dedicated to learning English, willing to provide more than adequate compensation to foreigners.

I recently re-read a commencement speech given by Steve Jobs1, which wisely stated that in life, ‘you can never connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.’ Looking back, like I mentioned before, all the decisions I made were exactly what I needed to get here. And in the one-plus months that I’ve been here, I can confidently say that the dots couldn’t have aligned any better. I’ve given up trying to map out my life and I’ve succumbed to the mentality that what will be, will be. People you meet when you travel shape your future in ways you never could have expected.  Doors open, new perspectives develop and growth is magnificently inevitable. All I can hope for in the end is that the universe conspires to help me snatch up that pesky little personal legend I’ve been so intensely seeking, and walk away with a few thousand more laughs and memories in my back pocket.


1 While I was writing this, I learned of Steve Jobs’ passing.  Among the factors that inspired
me to take the road less traveled was that very commencement speech Jobs gave at Stanford. Specifically, the part where he says that if you wake up every morning and look in the mirror and ask yourself if you’re happy with who you are and what you’re doing; and if the answer was ‘no’ for too many days in a row, it was time for change. I’ll never forget reading that, and it motivated me to take the blind leap towards uncertainty. The man was a visionary, and I’m just one of the few he inspired.

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