Origin stories

Mathew Mytka

Mathew Mytka

Moral Imagineer

I was born into a hippy Christian cult. Moving around heaps as a child with a few years in domestic violence refuges after my mum ran away from my dad with my five brothers and sisters. Then most of my childhood and adolescence was living in government housing estates with all the shenanigans and social dysfunction.

I got kicked out of school at 14 and was a bit of a troublemaker. Many of my teachers in high school said I would end up in prison, a junkie in the gutters or dead before I was 20. How wrong they were.

Once I was out of school I thought I wanted to become a chef as I did like cooking. That went out the window when I realised I’d basically be washing dishes for a year or more. I decided to just find any job that would take me.

I ended up working as a factory hand for a for a few months then went on to become a bricklayer, then foreman and later onto project manager, working on both residential and commercial construction projects. I enjoyed this work, outdoors, building stuff. But in my personal life I was getting wasted, street fighting and just doing stupid shit. Stealing cars, doing drugs, petty crime and some not so petty. It was just what I knew. It was what was familiar and what the people around me were doing that I respected at the time.

I was dealing with trauma from early childhood. I was angry. I was self destructive. But I came to a proverbial fork in the road. My crew of friends all started using heroin and I was certain I didn’t want to go down that road. I distanced myself from them, shifting my focus to bodyboarding, waves and work. I had more time and space to think and feel. To learn. I starting reading again, my curiosities drawing me towards science textbooks. So here I am at 19, not really having picked up a book since school, reading about geological systems, the biosphere, human physiology and cellular respiration. It was an explosive period of learning for my active mind.

At this point I’m still working in construction leading teams of tradesman in commercial projects. I realised I was a little out of place one day in the lunch room. All the other workers are chatting about football, what happened at the pub last night or some random banter. And then there was me, sitting in the corner reading my biology textbook. I realised it was time for me to pursue something different.

I remember telling my late Grandfather, a stonemason, master builder and the biggest positive male role model in my life, that I wanted to go to university. He jokingly dismissed it saying I should stick to my trade.

I was getting written off by those around me at the idea of going to university. It was reasonable to dismiss, I didn’t even finish high school, how could I go to university? I looked into what was the best pathway to university for someone like me. I came across what’s called a Special Tertiary Admissions Test and begun understanding what I needed to learn to do it. I booked in to do the test and chickened out when the day came. Afraid I was just not meant for it. The universe would lead me down this path later.

When I was 21 I got assaulted by a bouncer which fractured vertebrae in my neck. This put me out of work for a while. I was devastated. My dreams of travelling the world, riding waves and competing in bodyboarding were shattered. A year later I blew out my knee while playing rugby and had to get a knee reconstruction. While waiting for my surgery we had our team trip to Bali planned. My knee surgery was scheduled for the same week so I was going to miss out. It turned out to be my saviour. The Sari Club in Bali got bombed that year, many died. 5 of my team mates included. I would have been in the club with my mates on that fateful evening. I always reflected on it after that I was saved by a twist of fate.

My injuries forced me to rethink. I couldn’t continue with the hard physical labour of construction. And the idea of a career as a project manager in that industry did not appeal to me at all. I looked at other pathways and decided that going and starting from the basics was going to be best.

At 24 I went to college (TAFE) to finish off my high school studies. My plan was to complete my high school certificate and go to university to study biochemical and systems engineering. But my science teachers sucked and my humanities teachers rocked. This reality influenced my trajectory somewhat.

I finished high school with a pretty solid score which gave me some great options of what degrees I was eligible for.

I had three options that came back.

  • Law and public policy
  • Engineering and systems science
  • Communications and social science

After some exploring of the course material and reflection I decided on communications and social science at the University of Technology, Sydney.

University was a really intellectually stimulating environment for me. Though I was the pesky and inquisitive mature age student that annoyed my younger peers. Many of whom just wanted to drink, socialise and get “P’s” to pass their degrees and find some job. I was there to learn and follow my curiosity. Amidst this I did managed to connect with the students that actually wanted to learn something. I took side courses in neuroscience and psychology through MIT OpenCourseWare while doing my main degree. Interested in the brain, behaviour, perception and altered states of consciousness. I developed a keen interest in power dynamics and political economy. I was curious how media distribution and propaganda shaped peoples perceptions, how the modern web and surveillance technology was changing peoples behaviour, and how the trends in digital technologies and knowledge systems where shaping our human societies.

I met some really great people at university, two of which were studying journalism. Olivier and Tormod. We played with some video journalism projects for a while but ended up in investigative journalism and produced a feature length documentary.

In between all of this study I had some cracks at starting businesses, raced downhill mountain bikes (and broke my back and many bones). Had a few odd jobs, built grassroots creative communities, got involved in activism, ran a creative warehouse space, plus a few more entrepreneurial pursuits.

In 2012 I went to Mexico and Costa Rica. Spending some time at a jungle retreat exploring various dimensions of my being with the help of plant medicines and shamanic rituals. This was a powerful experience that shaped my perceptions of self, the world and my role in the universe.

Returning from Central America I went on and started a family with my beautiful partner in life ❤️

Developed some UX design and Product Management skills. Dabbled in coding and built a prototype P2P identity app on BitSync (Bittorrent storage).

I then helped create Australia’s first entrepreneurial college in Sydney. Fell in love with helping others to learn, designed courses and got into instructional design.

I’d returned to the ocean at this time. Reinvigorating my love for surfing and bodyboarding while in Costa Rica. I got into the competitive and community side and became a local and state bodyboarding champion. Even managed to get 2nd in Australia.

My professional pursuits continued…taking a role as Head of Platform Product at personal data and identity startup Meeco. I left there, pursued another startup idea in health and wellbeing tech before leading product and growth at an Australian cryptocurrency exchange (which was later acquired by Kraken). A lovely fella I met while working at Meeco then enticed me to join forces to grow a services business…working at the intersection of privacy, trustworthiness and ethics in technology and helping to shape open data sharing ecosystems globally. We learned a heap and from this started building a proof of concept social learning platform Tethix – this is a work in progress and long horizon project to create a new approach to learning. A massively collaborative online learning experience spawning communities of interest, practice and action to reimagine and co-create technologies to enable human flourishing. Ambitious…yes.

I’ve had various attempts at blogging over the years. I feel this one is gonna last. Ideally transferring it all to the Safe Network in the near future.