Story by Sarah Sabatke

portrait of Ryan Mathewson holding a NASA button
Ryan Mathewson poses with a NASA button on top of the Saturn V dynamic test stand at the Marshall Space Flight Center. The photo was taken during his third and final internship with NASA before his graduation from MU. Photo courtesy of Ryan Mathewson.

Mizzou alumnus Ryan Mathewson had always wanted to be an astronaut. After he graduated from MU in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in aerospace engineering, he headed to Huntsville, Alabama, and a full-time job at NASA.

Right now he’s working on designing part of the launch-abort system for a new rocket to replace the space shuttles, which flew their final mission in 2011.

Last fall, Mathewson stumbled upon a YouTube channel called “Yes Theory.” The channel is run out of Venice, California, and is led by three friends — Matt, from the U.S.; Ammar, from Egypt; and Thomas, from France.

Their website states their motto simply — “We believe that life can be as fulfilling and authentic as you wish so long as you’re willing to seek discomfort.” The group films videos with strangers, often revolving around once-in-a-lifetime experiences, all of which are outside their comfort zones.

Mathewson enjoyed their content and bought into their message. “That’s the way you get the best experiences a lot of times,” he says.

Mathewson should know. As a Mizzou student, he sought out involvement across campus and, ultimately, the world. He worked for Residential Life as a peer adviser in the Freshmen Interest Group program, for Campus Dining Services at Plaza 900 and for the Mizzou Engineering Study Abroad program, which allowed him to travel to France, England and Greece.

So it didn’t take a lot of prompting when he saw a Yes Theory video in fall 2018 promoting a special opportunity. Anyone who ordered something from Yes Theory’s merchandise line (named, appropriately, Seek Discomfort) within a certain timeframe could return a special form asking for their biggest dream and how much they owed in student loans. The team promised to choose one of the entries and to make that individual’s dream come true.

“I was like, OK, well, they’re not gonna like my biggest dream, but I’ll still fill out the survey, whatever,’ ” Mathewson said.

Several days later, a message appeared in his Instagram inbox. Check out the video below to see what happened next.

Mathewson says the only time he felt like he was in a video was when the team presented him with the check. The rest of the time, he says, felt “very natural.”

“It wasn’t scripted or anything,” he says. “They’re super genuine people.”

The check allowed him to pay off his student loans and gave him the freedom to consider options for the future, including furthering his education in graduate school. He will also continue to try to live in a way that pushes him to seek discomfort — exactly what Yes Theory stands for.

“To me, it really means just seeing the world from a different perspective,” he says. “That can really lead to interesting discoveries about other people, about the world, about yourself.”

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