Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey Summary

Print | Audiobook | Kindle

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey Book Cover

My Thoughts

Greenlights is the biography of the first 50 years of Matthew McConaughey’s life. He is a great storyteller and narrates the audio version himself, which makes it even better. Listening to the book feels like sitting in his home while he tells you his life story. There are many pearls of wisdom in his stories.

My Favorite Quotes

  • Knowing the truth, seeing the truth, and telling the truth are all different experiences.
  • To lose the power of confrontation is to lose the power of unity.
  • It’s better to jump than to fall.
  • The intellect should simplify things, not make them more cerebral.
  • We often don’t get what we want because we quit early or we didn’t take the necessary risk to get it.
  • We are all made for every moment we encounter.
  • If we stay in process and within the joy of the doing, we will never choke at the finish line.
  • Have immortal finish lines.
  • Sometimes which choice you make is not as important as making a choice and committing to it.
  • Some people look for an excuse to do, others look for an excuse not to.
  • It is not about whether you win or lose, it’s about accepting the challenge. When you accept the challenge you have already won.
  • Great leaders are not always in front, they also know who to follow.
  • We must be aware of what we attract in life, because it is no accident or coincidence.
  • Time and truth, two constants you can rely on. One shows up for the first time, every time, while the other never leaves.
  • I hope to give my children an opportunity to find what they love to do, work to be great at it, pursue it, and do it.

What’s a Greenlight?

Green lights mean go! We don’t like yellow and red lights, but sometimes they give us what we need.

Catching greenlights is about skill, intent, context, consideration, endurance, anticipation, resilience, speed, and discipline. We can catch more greenlights by simply identifying where the red lights are in our life, and then change course to hit fewer of them.

Catching greenlights is also about timing, the world’s and ours. We can catch them by sheer luck by being in the right place and the right time.

This is a book about how to catch more yeses in a world of nos.

Part One: Outlaw Logic: A Wednesday Night, 1974

His parents taught him not to hate, never say “I can’t” and to never lie.

Words are momentary; intent is momentous.

His parents didn’t hope they would follow the rules, they expected it.

A denied expectation hurts more than a denied hope. A fulfilled hope makes us happier than a fulfilled expectation. Hope has a higher return on happiness.

The value of denial depends on one’s commitment to it. His mom beat cancer twice on nothing more than aspirin and denial.

Matthew grew up thinking he had won the “Mr. Texas” award as a child. It wasn’t until 2019 that he noticed the photo of him “winning” actually said runner-up.

Knowing the truth, seeing the truth, and telling the truth are all different experiences.

His dad made sure his children learned the fundamentals before expressing their individualism.

To lose the power of confrontation is to lose the power of unity.

Conservative early, liberal late. Create structure so you can have freedom. Earn your Saturdays. We need discipline, guidelines, context, and responsibility early in any new endeavor. This is the time to sacrifice, learn, observe, and take heed. If and when we get knowledge of the space (the craft, people, and plan), then we can create. Creativity needs borders.

Part Two: Find Your Frequency: Spring 1988

In high school he was really popular and drove his truck around school with a megaphone on the front, he would take girls mudding after school. He sold his truck for a red sports car and lost his popularity.

When he sold his truck in high school, he lost the effort, hustle and fun. He was too busy leaning against his sports car. He had gotten lazy and was relying on the sports car to “do the work” for him.

Process of Elimination and Identity

The first step that leads to our identity is usually knowing who we are not, as opposed to knowing exactly who we are.

We develop our identity by process of elimination. We should get rid of the excesses in our lives that keep us from being more of ourselves. When we decrease the options that don’t feed us, we eventually have more options in front of us that do.

Knowing who you are is hard! Eliminate who you are not first!

Boundaries to Freedom

We need borders, gravity, and resistance to have order. This order creates responsibility. The responsibility creates judgment. The judgment creates choice. In the choice lies the freedom.

Later in life, he realized that the suffering and loneliness he experienced (as a foreign exchange student in Australia) was one of the most important sacrifices of his life.

Before the trip to Australia he was never introspective. The trip forced him to look inside himself for the first time.

We cannot fully appreciate the light without the shadows.

It’s better to jump than to fall.

The future is the monster. We should lift our heads, look it in the eye, and watch it heed.

You have to know who you are before you know what you want to say. Knowing who you are is the base that everything else comes from. You know who you are when you become independent enough to believe your own thoughts, and become responsible for your actions, believe what you want, and live what you believe. Live what you believe!

Part Three: Dirt Roads and Autobahns: July 1989

When you know what you want to do, knowing when to do it is the hard part.

Matthew decided to leave law school because he didn’t want to miss his twenties preparing for the rest of his life.

In his dorm room he found a copy of The Greatest Salesman in the World by Augustine “Og” Mandino. He picked it up and read for two and a half hours straight until he got to the first scroll of the book. Shortly after that he decided to switch from law school to film school.

DNA and work, genetics and willpower, life is a combination of the two. You need to both utilize your genes and have an incredible work ethic.

We earn belief in ourselves first, then with others.

Travel and humanity have been his greatest educators.

We are not here to tolerate our differences, we are here to accept them. We are not here to celebrate our sameness. As individuals we unite in our values.

Less impressed. More Involved.

The sooner we become less impressed with ourselves and everything in our lives, the sooner we get more involved and get better. We must be more than happy to just be here.

If you are not a starter and you think you should be, give them no choice, play so well that it’s undeniable.

Taking the road less traveled is not necessarily the road with the least traffic. It may be the road that we personally have traveled less. The introvert may need to get out of the house, the extrovert may need to stay home and read a book.

Part Four: The Art of Running Downhill: January 1994

The intellect should simplify things, not make them more cerebral.

We have to prepare in order to have freedom. We have to do the work to then do the job. We have to prepare for the job so we can be free to do the work.

We must learn the consequence of negligence. What we don’t do can be as important as what we do.

We often don’t get what we want because we quit early or we didn’t take the necessary risk to get it. The more boots we put into the back side of our “if only” dreams the more we will get what we want.

Made for the moment. We are all made for every moment we encounter. Whether the moment makes us, or we make the moment. Whether we are helpless in it, or on top of it. We are made for that moment!

Don’t create ceilings over yourself.

Don’t create imaginary constraints! A leading role, a blue ribbon, a winning score, the love of our life, euphoric bliss, a winning score, a great idea. Who are we to think we are not worthy of these when they are within our grasp?

We get too focused on the outcome and we miss the doing of the deed. If we stay in process and within the joy of the doing, we will never choke at the finish line. Why? Because we aren’t thinking of the finish line, we are performing in real-time where the approach is the destination. There is no goal line because we are never finished.

Have immortal finish lines. A roof is a man-made thing.

We all need a walkabout. We need to get alone. Put ourselves in places of decreased sensory input. We can hear ourselves again. Time alone simplifies the heart. Matthew McConaughey took a walkabout to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert.

We don’t always need advice, sometimes we just need to hear that we are not the only one.

Prescription/Prayer
God, when I cross the truth…

  • Give me the awareness to receive it
  • The consciousness to recognize it
  • The presence to personalize it
  • The patience to preserve it
  • The courage to live it

Part Five: Turn the Page: October 23, 1999

Sometimes which choice you make is not as important as making a choice and committing to it.

Some people look for an excuse to do, others look for an excuse not to.

It is not about whether you win or lose, it’s about accepting the challenge. When you accept the challenge you have already won. This was said after he accepted a wrestling challenge from the champion of a village in Africa.

Great leaders are not always in front, they also know who to follow.

We are going to make mistakes, own them, make amends, and move on!

Part Six: The Arrow Doesn’t Seek the Target, the Target Draws the Arrow: March 2005

We must be aware of what we attract in life, because it is no accident or coincidence.

We must chase what we want, but sometimes we don’t need to make things happen. Our souls are infinitely magnetic.

In 2005 he had five major responsiblities:

  1. Family
  2. Foundation
  3. Acting
  4. Production Company
  5. Music label

He felt like he was getting a “B” grade in all five. He decided to eliminate the last two and focus on making an “A” in family, his foundation, and acting.

The genius can do anything, but does one thing at a time.

Three things that will give you clarity, remind you of your mortality, and give you courage to live harder, stronger and truer.

  1. Death (the end of a life)
  2. Family Crisis (trying to keep a life)
  3. Newborn (welcoming a new life)

Part Seven: Be Brave, Take the Hill: Fall 2008

Here is a good plan when facing any crisis:

  1. Recognize the problem
  2. Stabilize the situation
  3. Organize the response
  4. Respond

Life is not a popularity contest, be brave, take the hill. What is your hill?

Time and truth, two constants you can rely on. One shows up for the first time, every time, while the other never leaves.

Part Eight: Live Your Legacy Now: November 7, 2011

Matthew’s life by decades:

  • In his first twenty years he learned the value of values: respect, accountability, creativity, courage, perseverance, fairness, service, good humor, and a spirit of adventure.
  • His twenties and thirties were contradictory decades, years when he eliminated conditions and truths that went against his grain.
  • His forties were an affirming decade where he started to play offense with truths he had learned and put them into action. An era where he doubled-down on what fed him.

He hopes to give his children an opportunity to find what they love to do, work to be great at it, pursue it, and do it.

P.S.: 10 Goals in Life

He wrote these goals on 09/01/1992 in his journal and found them while writing this book. This was two days after finishing his first acting role in dazed and confused.

  1. Become a father
  2. Find and keep the woman for me
  3. Keep my relationship with God
  4. Chase my best self
  5. Be an egotistical utilitarian
  6. Take more risks
  7. Stay close to mom and family
  8. Win an Oscar for best actor
  9. Look back and enjoy the view
  10. Just keep living

Related Book Summaries

Hope you enjoyed this and got value from my notes.
This is the 55th book read in my 2020 reading list.
Here is a list of my book summaries.

7 thoughts on “Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey Summary

  1. Man, I don’t know who you are but I have to thank you.
    I was listening to the book on Audible. I was drawn to it by the rhythmic sample piece that Audible put out. Mr. McConaughey reading is a beautiful dance and I was all in. But I don’t use expletives in my daily life. It isn’t a religious thing I just was lucky not to have enough red lights that I didn’t need to swear or fight.
    Last night after an encounter at work I was using so many expletives in the drive home I finally understood what road rage is. Earlier that day I listened to Mathew talked about the bar fight that made him acceptable to his dad. He talked about punching his fist through walls when he had reached his limit with Dooleys. By the time I was in the next chapter I was done with the book. But I loved the gems Mr. McConaughey was dropping through out the book. Thanks to you I have several of those gems without having to read the whole book.

    Listen, I really think the book is worth reading. I just can’t right now or maybe I never will. I have spent 23 years fighting cancer and dementia in dear elder family members. The fight includes being calm and empathetic.
    I could become a lettuce- ketchup eating- 9.66 aka 6 mile running person like Matthew in his early 20s but I wont. I simply need to avoid this book that is a bit of a red light for me to remain calm and focus on love for my family. I don’t avoid all the red because I, like Matthew have learned a lot by breaking hard at past red lights, enduring the wait as I watch the metaphoric trucks, cars, cluckers, hotrods, motorcycle, pedestrian and the messages and lessons they gave go by and learned always learned loads from those wait periods. But maybe because I am now 57 and recently lost the love of my life, I don’t want to waste time. I am making U turn by coping your blog and reading things you found interesting. I am heading for the green light in the horizon and leaving others to wait at this particular red light. I will recommend the book I just can’t read it in full.
    Your Blog post has allowed me to enjoy Mr. McConaughey’s book the way I really need to enjoy it. THANK YOU. and thank you to Mr. McConaughey, MATTHEW for being brave enough to share his experiences because it is bravery to look at your life, laugh at your life, share your best and worst experiences, and ultimately laugh at it all because life is really a big joke. The things that drove us in to rages like Matthew’s stay with the Dooleys, or a bad relationship with a co-worker, later in life, if you are wise, are absolutely laughable and we all should wake up and see them as a ridiculous practical jokes that hopefully have helped grow and be better, humane, compassionate, empathetic people.
    I liked this book what I read I just was having some adverse reactions to the stories so. THANKS AGAIN FOR YOUR POST. You gave me a green light into GREENLIGHTS.

  2. Appreciated the summary. I think I’d like to hear MM read it, so will try to do the audio book.

  3. Thanks for writing for us, it was on point what I was looking for, will check your other summaries as well.

    Thanks
    Deb

Leave a Reply