Jan. 31, 2021

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey: why you need to choose words with more intention and less hate

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About the book

Matthew McConaughey has been keeping diaries for 35 years as a way of recording his thoughts and “trying to work out the riddle of life”. These diaries formed this book. As he puts it he “took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops.”



About the author

Matthew McConaughey is an American actor and producer. He was born in Uvalde, Texas. He is of Irish, Scottish, English, German, and Swedish descent.

He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin (originally studying law, before switching to acting) and got his first big break with the 1993 film Dazed and Confused. He later starred in A Time to Kill (1996) and Amistad(1997), among many others. Named Peoplemagazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" in 2005, McConaughey also starred in Mud(2012) and Dallas Buyers Club (2013), which earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor. McConaughey came on strong in 2014 with his starring role on the TV series True Detective,a project that propelled him even further on his star trajectory.


He lives with his wife, Camila, and children in Austin, Texas.

Sources: Biography.com, wikipedia and imdb 



Matthew learnt at a young age to choose his words carefully. The biggest tellings off he received from his parents were for using two words; ‘can’t’ and ‘hate’. Because they were words that could hurt him. This early lesson stuck with him, he respected language, thought about it carefully and intentionally, and avoiding ‘can’t’ and ‘hate’ became more a value, rather than just a rule. He said in the book “words are momentory, intent is momentous”.

His family were quite ‘old testament’ in their parenting, he was also screamed at by his Mum for once answering to ‘Matt’, being told ‘you weren’t named after a doormat’. Again, showing the importance of words (and why the consequences of getting things wrong were high!).

This attention to his internal and external language served him well. Removing ‘can’t’ from his vocabulary gave him the grit to try new or bigger things before he may have been ‘ready’ or experienced enough.


This mentality turned ‘I would if I could’ to ‘I can and I am’. The attitude of not half-assing things lead Matthew to create his own opportunities, putting himself forward for leading roles when he’d been cast as a secondary role (or even a bit-part) and do whatever he did to the best of his ability.

This was the advice (well, more of an instruction) his Dad gave him when Matthew called to say that he wanted to switch from studying law, to studying acting.

He came back to this advice at several points in his life. From those early days of studying and initial acting roles, through to when he made the decision to stop taking rom-com roles, and wait for more serious acting roles to come up.


Every few years, Matthew would get the call of the wild and would need to go on an adventure. To escape and reset. He went across America in his van with his dog, Ms Hud. He rode across Europe on motorbikes with his friends. He went to South America for an adventure down the Amazon river and he travelled to Africa, to try and find one of his favourite musicians.

Each of these experiences allowed Matthew the time to create some distance between his daily life and time to reflect on his values and what was next. Each trip served almost a transition point between various stages of his life and career, and offered important new perspectives and insights through the experiences he had and the reflections they allowed. It’s an important reminder of how we all need to create these spaces in life - on a micro and macro level.



Hiding in the book was one more big idea - journaling. Matthew is a fantastic storyteller, but the richness of his experiences really came from the fact that he had 35 years of experiences, lessons, fears, pains and realisations written down. Meaning that when he disappeared off to a cabin in the woods to write Greenlights, he had plenty of material to work with. It was a good and timely reminder of the importance of keeping a journal and what you might want to look back on in years to come.



I read this on my Kindle (one of the older style ones) and unfortunately the ebook hasn’t been formatted for the device - many of the photos / handwritten notes included were illegible on the Kindle. They are readable if you use the Kindle app on your phone or iPad. Also, you may want to consider trying this book as an audiobook and enjoying the stories told by Matthew with added acting ability and in his trademark Texan drawl.

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