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6 Takeaways from Matthew McConaughey's "Greenlights"

I read Matthew McConaughey's memoir, "Greenlights". Here's what stuck with me.
6 Takeaways from Matthew McConaughey's "Greenlights"
Photo by Ethan Rougon / Unsplash
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey; https://joelbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/greenlights-1000x675.jpg

"Greenlights" by the famed actor, Matthew McConaughey, is a book I've been wanting to read for quite some time. I was gifted the book for Christmas, so I started reading it as soon as I finished up the book I was already reading. "Greenlights" is a wonderfully-written, insightful memoir of McConaughey's life up to this point (published in October 2020). Throughout the book, McConaughey reflects on his life and some of his craziest experiences while sharing valuable lessons he's learned along the way.

The basic idea of "Greenlights" is that we should catch as many greenlights as humanly possible throughout our lifetime; it is a metaphor for opportunity and affirmation that we are doing the right thing. Of course, life has its' fair share of yellow and red lights. It's our job to turn these into greenlights and keep on livin by reframing our perspective and being persistent in chasing what we are after. The following 6 lessons resonated with me; they could be paramount to helping you catch more greenlights as well.

Be unapologetically yourself.

While this may be cliché, it is nonetheless applicable to where I am in life. As a senior in high school, I feel like everyone is finally beginning to figure out who they are. Unfortunately, we as a collective society place entirely too much weight upon the opinions of others. So, while many people are figuring out who they are, they are not finding the truest version of themselves; rather, they find the version of themselves which best fits in with others.

Instead of doing this, we should define our "style," as Matthew McConaughey calls it. We need to find out who we are and what we believe, away from the influences of others. This means no input from friends, parents, etc. What do YOU believe? Once you define that and feel comfortable in your own beliefs, simply live in accordance with those. Don't give a damn what others think of you; authenticity is superior to people-pleasing. That is "style."

Be clear in what you want.

With the immense amount of distraction we face nowadays due to technology and social media, it is imperative to stay your course and be intentional in the actions you take. McConaughey talks about how as he came to attain his famed status, he had luxuries he had never had access to before. With that came a question: did he actually want these luxuries? Upon introspection, he realized he had no need for a maid to fold his clothes and press his jeans; it was entirely unnecessary for him and served no actual purpose.

We must ask ourselves this same question. While I do not have a maid or a ton of money, I face distractions from goals as everyone else does. There's junk food, social media, mass consumerism, etc. I have to be real with myself and ask, "do I really want any of this?" More often than not, the answer is no, I don't.

Do not place limitations on yourself.

Limitations are not real, not unless we place them upon ourselves. As McConaughey exhibits through the example of an NFL playoff game and his very own life, "a roof is a man-made thing". It is a disservice to ourselves to set such limitations on our life and ambitions. Set your sights higher than you give yourself credit for, and I think we would all be amazed at what we could accomplish.

The unknown helps us discover what we do know.

Stay with me here. Many people are resistant to change and new things when this could be all that they need. Falling into routine can strip us of our individuality; who are we outside of the breakfast we eat everyday, the desk we sit at for 8 hours, the Netflix show we watch at night? By no means am I saying there is anything wrong with working an office job or watching Netflix, but we shouldn't allow ourselves to fall victim to complacency in such a routine.

When Matthew McConaughey struggled most with his identity and emotions, he did what most don't have the courage to do: he left home and set out to discover what he truly knew about himself. His intuition led him to the Amazon River in South America, an entirely different environment than California or Texas. Sure enough, McConaughey experienced a life-changing experience and without all the external stimulus, discovered the pillars of his life and cleared his conscience.

No one need carry out such an extreme adventure as McConaughey did, but the principle still applies. Get out of your comfort zone and spend time with yourself; you will learn tons.

Do not seek what you desire, attract it.

Desperation never got anybody anywhere, and when it did, the outcome was less than stellar. Although chasing dreams and desires has its place, there is something to be said for working on yourself and waiting patiently.

In McConaughey's example, he speaks about meeting his to-be wife. As he was getting older, he began to feel concerned he would not find a wife, and therefore wouldn't be able to be the father he always dreamt of being. A realization came to him, and McConaughey realized he could be a father without having a wife, so he quit chasing the women and focused on himself. Sure enough, he met his wife Camila shortly after.

When we eliminate the pressure on ourselves and quit becoming so concerned with living a perfect life, life becomes our playground. We catch so many more greenlights than if we were in a state of desperation, wishing for miracles. Best said by McConaughey, "the arrow doesn't seek the target, the target draws the arrow."

We must define what success is.

Everyone's idea of success is different. For some, the bigger the number in their bank account, the more successful they define themselves. For others, a smile and a roof over their head is success. It all depends on your personal definition, which centers around your values. No definition of success is right or wrong, just specifically tailored for each individual.

For McConaughey, money didn't mean success. He was sick and tired of doing romantic comedies, and not even a $14 million contract could sway him. To him, success meant playing roles he was genuinely interested in and creating stunning performances on-screen. Having a family and being a great father and husband was success. Self-expression was success.

So, "be brave and take the hill, but first, answer the question, 'What is my hill?'" In my instance, success looks like being comfortable and living new experiences. I don't really care if I don't have the newest car, the biggest house, or a million bucks in my bank account. I just want to see the world and make friends along the way.

By taking these 6 lessons to heart, we can catch more greenlights and enjoy life to the fullest extent. As individuals, we can define what we want, how to position ourselves to receive what we want, and how to have fun all the while. McConaughey calls this the art of livin. "just keep livin...lower case because life is nobody's proper noun, and there's no "g" on the end of livin because life's a verb."