5 Fun and Inspirational Greenlights Quotes

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Greenlights" by Matthew McConaughey. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you looking for Greenlights quotes? Which quotes are the most interesting and inspirational?

These five Greenlights quotes are inspirational, thoughtful, and filled with McConaughey-isms. He combines his spiritual understanding of life with his sense of humor, and the result is the unique book, Greenlights.

Keep reading for five inspirational Greenlights quotes.

Quotes From Greenlights

These Greenlights quotes are in many ways, classic Matthew McConaughey. They are a mix of humorous, spiritual, and thought-provoking, and all point toward personal development. Matthew McConaughey ‘s memoir discusses his life and achievements, but the quotes can be applied to anyone’s life as they search for direction and their own greenlights.

“The question we need to ask ourselves is: what is success to us? More money? That’s fine. A healthy family? A happy marriage? Helping others? To be famous? Spiritually sound? To express ourselves? To create art? To leave the world a better place than we found it? Life is not a popularity contest. Be brave, take the hill. But first answer the question.”

With a second child on the way and a new life to live with his new family in their new house in Texas, Matthew knew that this time, changing his career direction would be a different experience. This time, he had more than just himself to take into account. The next 20 months would test his resolve as he rejected his established public image and waited for the world to catch up. This period would bring the death of his current “brand” but also the birth of a daughter and the birth of a new public image. It would lead, ultimately, to a Hollywood McConaissance.

Insights and lessons from this period include the following:

  • You have to define success for yourself unless you want other people to define it for you. Ask yourself what success means to you, and know that you’ll find the answer in whatever makes you truly happiest in your soul. Real prosperity comes from being true to your deepest definition of what it means to be rich.
  • Your voluntary responsibilities are the most important ones. They’re more important than your obligations to family or society, because self-obligations reveal your true level of honesty and responsibility. You’re the only one who knows whether or not you fulfill such obligations, so the way you handle them defines your real character and depth of integrity.

“I’m not perfect; no, I step in shit all the time and recognize it when I do. I’ve just learned how to scrape it off my boots and carry on.”

In Fall 2008, Matthew realized it was time for yet another change. This one would remove him from the movie industry for an indefinite period.

He checked on his finances to verify whether he and his family could survive with some disruption to their income. Finding that everything was solid, he called his agent and said he wanted to stop accepting roles in romantic comedies. He knew this was a risky move in a business where saying “pass” on too many projects can lead to a situation where you don’t receive any offers at all. But he felt that he had to do it.

He and Camila discussed the situation together. They prayed about it. She acknowledged that his decision represented a risk, but she also told him that if they were going to make such a dramatic change, they would have to do it wholeheartedly and not “half-ass” it. This direct echo of Jim McConaughey’s words when Matthew had expressed his desire to go to film school seemed striking, even startling. For Matthew, it confirmed the rightness of what they were doing.Over the next year, dozens of offers to star in romantic comedies continued to come Matthew’s way. And he continued to decline them all, even when the offers started getting higher: $5 million, then $10 million, then $14.5 million. The stress took its toll on him, as he had always felt privileged to be able to make a living doing what he loved, and now he was rejecting well-paying work. As his worries about the future simmered in the background, he focused his thoughts on his desire to forge a new career in which his art and his work more closely resembled his real life and the passions that motivated him.

“Persist, pivot, or concede. It’s up to us, our choice every time.”

His twenties and thirties were “conservative” decades, during when he cared more about not running red lights than finding green ones. He spent those years getting rid of conditions and truths that felt counter-grain to him, so that he could find his real self.

His forties were a more affirming time when he put the truths he had learned into action. They were a time when he created many new greenlights even as he saw many reds and yellows from his past turn green. The net result was that he caught more greenlights than he ever had before. 

Ultimately, in Matthew’s view, the art of living goes back to the concept of greenlights, combined with the concepts of relativity and inevitability. To live wisely means to recognize that the ultimate inevitability in your life is death. Therefore, as you make choices and seek to catch greenlights, think about the way these choices will shape your eventual eulogy. In other words, begin with the end in mind. Living this way represents the ultimate fusion of relativity with inevitability and the surest way to fill your experience with one greenlight after another.

“We all have scars, we gonna have more. Rather than struggle against time and waste it, let’s dance with time and redeem it. Cause we don’t live longer when we try not to die. We live longer when we are too busy living.”

Five days into shooting his scenes in Dazed and Confused, Matthew received a call from his mother to inform him that his father had died. Jim had suffered a heart attack after making love to Kay. Matthew left Austin and drove back to Houston for an Irish wake.

As he grappled with the inevitability of this loss, he began to realize that this was his most important rite of passage to manhood. The impact of Jim’s death filled him with a sense of adult responsibility and increased involvement in his own life. Formerly, he had always been playing at life to some extent, like a child. Now it was time to really live it as a man, to be less impressed with himself and more involved in his future.Four days after Jim’s wake, Matthew returned to finish his work on Dazed and Confused. When he got there, Linklater gave him some dialogue in a scene where Wooderson wasn’t originally supposed to speak. Wooderson’s advice to another character in that scene to just “keep livin.” was Matthew’s own creation. He based it on what he told Linklater before shooting: that he felt he could keep Jim McConaughey’s spirit alive forever by living as Jim had taught his sons to do.

“Me? I haven’t made all A’s in the art of living. But I give a damn. And I’ll take an experienced C over an ignorant A any day.”

In the wake of his Oscar win, Matthew made many more movies, including Interstellar, Free State of Jones, and Gold. But even though these fulfilled him creatively, something apparently wasn’t translating to the public, because the movies weren’t financial successes. He didn’t know if the reason lay with him, the stories, the distributors, pure luck, or something else. 

The uncertainty over his post-Oscar box office returns made him even more committed to his craft. He began bringing an increasing level of intensity and absorption to the fictional characters whose lives he inhabited on the screen. Then, one day, he realized that these characters had come to feel more vital to him than the story that was his real life. He had become a true actor-artist, finding consequence, danger, and excitement in his art. It was an exhilarating discovery.

But it also made him realize that it was time, yet again, for a change. It was time to turn his life into his favorite movie, to write his own script and direct his own story. It was time to catch the hero that he had always been chasing: his future self. It was time to live his legacy now, to quit acting like Matthew McConaughey and simply be Matthew McConaughey.

5 Fun and Inspirational Greenlights Quotes

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Matthew McConaughey's "Greenlights" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Greenlights summary:

  • How "greenlights" help you confirm if you're on the right path
  • How McConaughey switched college choices because of family finances
  • Why family is at the center of everything for McConaughey, no matter what's happening in his career

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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