My Main Takeaways from Matthew McConaughey's "Greenlights"

February 11, 2021

Never in my life have I been so swept away by an autobiographical novel. Even if you’re not a McConaughey fan you should absolutely get your hands on this book (and you’ll likely be a fan after doing so). While there’s no denying Matthew’s good looks and charming southern drawl, it’s even harder to deny that he’s a damn good writer and one of the most down to Earth celebrities of our time. For that reason and more, here are my main takeaways — or lessons to live by —  from his latest novel, Greenlights:

One: Don’t half-ass it.

When McConaughey decided, against all odds, to ditch his pursuit of law school to become a film student, pretty much all his father told him was “Don’t half-ass it.” And clearly, he didn’t.

This is the way we should tackle everything in life, or at least everything we’re passionate about. Sure, I might have half-assed most of my college essays, but that’s because I wasn’t passionate about their topics. But am I half-assing this blog post? Am I half-assing my passions? Am I half-assing this beautiful, exhilarating journey that is life? Absolutely not. So next time you find yourself unmotivated to complete the task at hand, think to yourself, “Don’t half-ass it.” And if you’re still doing so, it’s because you’re simply not interested enough and should consider a change of job, hobby, or focus. And remember: hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, Pg. 96

Two: Don’t trip yourself while running downhill.

In life, there are moments when you’re running downhill. These are rare, blissful moments, and we should catch them if we can. They’re moments when things are going so well that life feels more smooth-sailing than normal. Yet we still find a way to create drama for ourselves because it seems to be our human nature to need something to worry about; to keep the survival instinct alive. Ever heard someone say life is going so well they’re afraid something bad is going to happen soon? Well, it’s likely that that fear in itself is the bad thing that’s happening, or the factor that triggers it. We’re so accustomed to struggling we find it difficult to believe when the odds are in our favor; that the slope is actually descending. Consequently, we create obstacles in our path that weren’t originally there. We fall flat on our face while running downhill. So like Matthew says, “Don’t create imaginary constraints.” Don’t jump hurdles that aren’t actually there. Next time you’re worried or anxious about something, think to yourself, “Do I really need to be concerned about this? Is this really worth my energy?” …and you’ll often find that it’s not.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, Pg. 152

Three: All I can see is in front of me.

Now, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t have dreams or any conscious perception of past and future. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t learn from past mistakes, or aspire to more than what’s in your line of sight. It’s to say that you should try your absolute best to always live in the present. It’s to say that you shouldn’t dwell on the past, or worry about that thing that hasn’t happened yet – and probably never will. You know why? Because any idea you have about something that might happen is nothing more than that: an idea. (I recently learned this in a Headspace animation.) The way we imagine the future is, more often than not, completely different to how it actually unfolds. So why not just focus on what’s in front of you now? What you can accomplish today? What you feel in this precise moment? They say you die only once in your lifetime, but a million times in your head. So stop imagining your potential wipeout and just ride the wave.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, Pg. 157

Four: Know what you’re not so you can find what you are.

I’ve found that whenever I’m suffering an identity crisis – and this happens more often than I’d like – I try to resolve it by listing my interests.

Q: What is my calling?
A: Writing.

Q: What is my passion?
A: Music.

Q: What are my interests?
A: Travel. Yoga. Meditation.

Q: What is my purpose?
A: To be a defender of mankind (the literal definition of my name).

McConaughey taught me that, rather than list what I am, it’s more effective to list what I’m not.

Q: What am I not?
A: Vain. Ignorant. Uninspired. Inauthentic. Unambitious. Unkind.

This ‘process of elimination and identity’ makes it much easier to find your path once you’ve deviated far from it.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, Pg. 64

Five: The arrow doesn’t seek the target, the target draws the arrow.

In time I’ve found that the best things in life always find you when you’re not looking for them. My first modeling gig, the part-time bartending job I needed in college, my soulmate when I wandered into a cafeteria at age 14… they all came unexpectedly, and bred results that changed my life. My first modeling gig led to a rapid increase in my social media presence, which has become a passion of mine and helps sustain me economically. My bartending job gave me my first car, money to travel, and friendships that’ll last a lifetime. My soulmate, well, he gave me the thing I needed most: the freedom to be my most genuine, authentic self, and be unconditionally loved while doing so.

I’ve also found that the more grateful we are in life, the more benevolence we attract. The more satisfied we are with our conditions the better they get. So perhaps if you stop thinking about that raise you really want, that girl you really need, that door you need opened, and instead give thanks for your job, your friends, and the door your foot’s already in, the things you need the most will come to you unexpectedly, and likely as an improved version of what you imagined.

Six: Above all, just keep livin'.

I’ve always believed the real purpose of life is not to find purpose itself, but rather just to live. To be. To enjoy the blessing that is being able to breathe and have a beating heart with no conscious effort whatsoever. To be grateful that, billions of lifetimes ago, an accidental combination of stardust and chemicals led to the formation of mankind’s home – and mankind itself. To feel lucky that you get a chance to roam the surface of a spherical floating rock that pulls you toward it with such gravitational force that you don’t fall into – or get lost in – space.

The real meaning of life is to just keep livin', because that’s all we’re truly assigned to do by the spiritual forces that decided we’re worthy of life.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, Back Cover

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