Matthew McConaughey’s Journal Became Greenlights

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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Why did Matthew McConaughey keep a journal? How did that journal become his memoir, Greenlights?

Matthew McConaughey kept a journal for 35 years as he rose to Hollywood stardom and rebranded himself later in his career. McConaughey’s journal helped him write his memoir about catching life’s greenlights, and what it all meant.

Read more about Matthew McConaughey, his journal, and his life lessons.

The 35-Year Journal That Became Greenlights

Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights is not a conventional memoir. As he neared age 50, the Oscar-winning actor revisited the journal that he had kept for the previous 35 years to see what he could learn from it. The result is this book, which combines hard-earned insights about the art of living with vivid accounts of McConaughey’s upbringing in rural Texas, his adventures in the movie business, his global travels, and his lifelong search for love and fatherhood. Part autobiography and part life-guide, Greenlights both explains and illustrates McConaughey’s philosophy of “catching greenlights”—recognizing and even creating those moments when life says “yes” and you cruise into success as you pursue your destiny.

Being Matthew McConaughey

In the wake of his Oscar win, he made many more movies. When he realized that his movie roles felt more vital to him than his real life, he knew 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.

To do this, he gathered the scraps of his lifelong journal and created this book, combing through his resume and experiences and drawing out the insights that had formed him. As he was finishing the book in 2020, both the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd rocked the world. Matthew is convinced that at some point in the future, the red light of 2020 will turn green and reveal it as one of our greatest years, as values are intrinsically nondenominational and bipartisan (a lesson his parents taught him). In a world where so many people are divided, he says values are what unite us.

Ultimately, in Matthew’s view, the art of living goes back to the concept of greenlights. As you make choices in life and seek to catch greenlights, think about the way these choices will shape your eventual eulogy. Living this way is the surest way to fill your experience with one greenlight after another.

The McConaughey Way

Enduring lessons that Matthew drew from all of these experiences include the following. These are all insights that you can apply to your own life resume to get relative with your inevitabilities and start catching more greenlights:

  • Words are values that create expectations and consequences, so use them carefully.
  • The first step in learning who you are is to learn who you aren’t.
  • Discover your personal “frequency,” your core of identity, and hold onto it.
  • We’re here not to merely tolerate each other’s differences, but to celebrate them.
  • To become an adult, and to achieve more success, you have to become less impressed with and more involved with your achievements, career, and relationships.
  • Sometimes what’s important is just to make a choice—any choice—and stick with it.
  • If you feel stuck in a rut, know that you have the power to change. Your life is a book, and you’re the author. You can turn the page.
  • You have to define success for yourself unless you want other people to define it for you.
Matthew McConaughey’s Journal Became Greenlights

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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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