How to Find and Use Your Personal Frequency

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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What’s a personal frequency? How does Matthew McConaughey explore this topic in his memoir, Greenlights?

In Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey explores the idea of personal frequency, a center of gravity that’s unique to you and helps you make the right choices. McConaughey says that personal frequency guides all your choices and helps you see the greenlights in front of you.

Read more about Matthew McConaughey’s thoughts on personal frequency below.

Discovering Your Personal Frequency

Having grown up learning the outlaw logic of Jim and Kay McConaughey, and having failed his father’s rite of passage, Matthew still needed to find his personal center of gravity and work out his independent identity. Events during and after his senior year of high school facilitated this transition when life itself, acting in concert with Matthew’s free choices in the face of his life’s inevitabilities, put him on the road to self-discovery. It was a road that led to a red sports car that stole his macho mojo, a year’s stay in Australia with a family so weird they seemed right out of the Twilight Zone, and a second chance to establish his manhood in his father’s eyes.

Through his life experiences during this time, Matthew learned the following on his journey to find his personal frequency.

  • Before you can find your real footing, you have to be thrown off balance. The first step in learning who you are is to learn who you aren’t. Recognize and let go of the things in your life that don’t resonate with you and don’t feed your soul. What’s left will be the real you.
  • You have to discover your personal “frequency,” your authentic core of identity, and hold onto it no matter what goes on around you.
  • Being true to yourself can take different forms. Sometimes it can mean maintaining your moral center in chaotic circumstances. Other times it can mean breaking the rules to do what needs to be done.
  • To have freedom, we need finite borders and boundaries. Only when we have some kind of order can we have a choice. (Notice the resonance of this insight with Part 1’s lesson about the necessity of structure.) When you deliberately get rid of everything that causes a kind of “existential friction”—everything that doesn’t sit right with you in your spirit—this automatically creates order and gives you direction.

Pickup Trucks and Red Sports Cars

Matthew caught plenty of greenlights during his senior year of high school. He also experienced a major lesson about learning who you are by learning who you aren’t. This is all a part of finding your personal frequency.

He earned straight A’s while holding down a job that kept him in cash. He excelled at golf, enjoyed parties, and dated both the prettiest girl at his high school and the prettiest girl at the other school across town.

A major part of his identity was his pickup truck. He enjoyed taking girls off-road mudding in it (driving through muddy creek beds). He had a megaphone in the truck’s front grill and delighted in using it to offer commentary on passing girls at school, which in turn delighted them. Everybody loved his truck and him with it.

Then he fell in love with a red 300ZS that he saw on sale at the local Nissan dealership. On the spur of the moment, he traded in his truck for the car and became convinced that girls would dig him all the more because of it. Now his jam at school was to park in the farthest lot (to prevent door dings) and lean against the side of his car, being cool.

But in fact, his new car had the opposite effect. Girls started ignoring him and going mudding with other guys. It wasn’t long before he had learned his lesson. He traded the car back in for his truck, and in regaining his truck, he regained his mojo. He had briefly gotten too caught up in looking cool instead of being real, and he had paid the price.

How to Find and Use Your Personal Frequency

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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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