Select Page
Read time: 8 min

Synopsis

Greenlights is a collection of Matthew McConaughey’s journals from the past 36 years. He had put off delving into these journals for many years. However, he decided it was finally the time to take himself and the journals to a desert with no electricity. Here is where he wrote Greenlights. By re-reading the thousands of pages held in these journals, McConaughey relived the core values that brought him success and happiness. Greenlights is filled with people and experiences and is described by McConaughey as an aspirational book. 

About Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey is an American actor and producer from Texas. He was sprung into the limelight in his mid-20s during his breakout supporting performance in Dazed and Confused (1993). Since, he has had a career of almost 30 years, starring in some of the biggest movies. McConaughey won an Oscar in 2013 for his portrayal in Dallas Buyers Club of Ron Woodroof, a cowboy diagnosed with AIDS. The following year he was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for his starring role in True Detective. 

The Making of Greenlights

Greenlights’ inception is filled with unique features. Firstly, McConaughey has been writing a journal for a total of 36 years. This memoir offered him an opportunity to read back through these journals and reminisce on the fantastic adventures he has had along the way. Additionally, though, McConaughey wanted to be entirely focused on this memoir. Hence, he spent part of his writing period in the middle of the desert with no electricity. Specifically, he spent 12 days without electricity and another 40 in the desert with a small generator. 

Dreams of Becoming a Father

The one thing that was constant throughout McConaughey’s journals was that he wanted to become a father. This dream was never in any doubt and something he realized from his journals at the age of eight. When he was a young boy, he was told by his father to always shake the hand of older men. It was at this point McConaughey twigged that every one of these men was a father. His young self computed that you have made it in life once they have become a father, like these men. 

The First Time McConaughey Met His Wife

McConaughey reveals how amazed he was the first time he saw his wife. He explains most people would ask ‘Who is that?’ when they see a beautiful person. Instead, McConaughey asked, ‘What is that?’ In his mind, she was gliding rather than walking. His imagination ran with the sheer beauty of Camila. Later in the book, he explains Camila trumped these expectations the more he got to know her. She was beautiful in every way. 

Swapping a Red Sports Car for a Truck

McConaughey describes his teenage years as being a hustle. He drove a truck and would give girls lifts to concerts. At these concerts, he would be the one working hard to help everyone get a space at the front of the crowd. Plus, he was always the life of the party. If there was a dance floor, McConaughey would be on it. However, he explains he made the silly decision of trading this truck in for a red sports car. After this trade, his whole demeanor changed. He lost his hustle and started just leaning on his red sports car, expecting people to like him. This attracted girls for about a day. Then, everybody started asking him why he had become so boring. Straight after this, McConaughey decided to return the red sports car and get another truck. Ever since, he has adopted this truck mentality of hustling and working hard. He hasn’t let fame change this.

How Does McConaughey Stay Grounded?

McConaughey explains that keeping yourself grounded should be daily work. The way he remains grounded is by ensuring he has a firm grasp of his values. If he feels he is losing his grasp of these values, he takes some time to reconnect with these values. He aims to get his heart and head communicating clearly. 

Prescribes Guide Us

McConaughey talks in the book about what he calls ‘prescribes.’ Prescribes are prescriptions you have for life. They are decision-making paradigms and compasses that help keep us on our path. Prescribes are most useful when dealing with a tough time in your life or success, or in a rut. 

Find Your Frequency

One prescribe that McConaughey describes in the book is finding your frequency. He explains this prescribe has become increasingly important during the Coronavirus pandemic. We are living in a very disruptive time. Therefore, we have to find our frequency again. McConaughey suggests that finding our frequency is a personal adventure. It involves looking in the mirror and encouraging ourselves to be more responsible and empathetic. 

What Is a Greenlight?

“This is a book about how to catch more YESs in a world of NOs and how to recognize when a NO might actually be a YES. This is a book about catching green lights and realizing that the yellow and the reds eventually turn green.” – Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey describes a green light as a sign you should continue with what you are doing. You may believe these signs come from the universe, God, or by chance. However, all that matters is you pursue this green light when it emerges. There are obvious green lights, like being offered a job you never imagined you would be offered. However, there are also less obvious green lights disguised as yellow or even red lights. A perfect example of a green light disguised as a red light is setbacks or challenges we have in life. When we experience these difficult times, it may feel like it is better we do not pursue our goals or dreams. McConaughey offers the example of his father passing away, who was his biggest role model. Although this seemed like a red light, he now looks back at this time as a massive green light for his life. It encouraged him to think more about the lessons his father had taught him. Subsequently, he became the man he wanted to be. McConaughey explains these challenges could be a crucial part of your growth journey towards success and happiness. It is up to us to turn these challenges into advantages. Every red or yellow light will eventually turn green.

The Three Ways to Respond to a Red Light

  1. Persist (push on)
  2. Pivot (call an audible)
  3. Concede (wave the white flag)

How to Respond to Success

McConaughey highlighted that success should always be enjoyed. Celebrate your successes in life as they won’t last forever. Winter always follows autumn. However, spring will be just around the corner. You need to be ready to enjoy your next success when it comes round the corner. 

Additionally, success will not solve all your problems. Instead, success merely changes your problems. Success may solve some problems, but it will also create new problems. New problems require us to learn and create new solutions. 

Finally, success can also be overwhelming. Therefore, ensure you have a space you can retreat to when you feel success impacts your grasp of your core values. Take time to process your success. McConaughey’s personal success required him to engage with introspection, isolation, and medication. Subsequently, he decided to travel to the Amazon river to reconnect with himself. The result was a renewed McConaughey who was ready to face the oncoming challenges and successes. 

Preparation Is Key to Success

“We must learn the consequence of negligence… it’s not just what we do, it’s what we don’t do that’s important as well. We are guilty by omission.” – Matthew McConaughey

Preparation is fundamental to all success. Preparation provides us with the confidence required to perform well. This confidence allows us to impress others. Finally, impressing others bestows us with fantastic opportunities to obtain success. This loop then keeps going as long as we remain prepared. 

McConaughey turned up to his auditions exceptionally prepared. This preparation provided him with the confidence to ask for the roles he wanted within the films. People were willing to listen to him when he did this, as he had earned their respect through his preparation. 

Take Action

“Sometimes which choice you make is not as important as making a choice and committing to it.” – Matthew McConaughey

Action leads to opportunity or failure. Opportunities will almost always take you towards your goal. However, failures can also help you with your goal. Failures teach you valuable lessons. In contrast, inaction leads to nothing happening. McConaughey would rather jump than fall. 

If you have feedback about this summary or would like to share what you have learned, comment below.

New to StoryShots? Get the audio and animated versions of this summary and hundreds of other bestselling nonfiction books in our free top-ranking app. It’s been featured by Apple, The Guardian, The UN, and Google as one of the world’s best reading and learning apps.

To dive into the details, order the book or get the audiobook for free.

Related Book Summaries

The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Gandhi by Mahatma Gandhi

The Power of Full Engagement by James Loehr and Tony Schwartz

The Art of Happiness by Dala Lama

Attitude is Everything by Jeff Keller

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

Breath by James Nestor

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

The Shallows by Nicholas G. Carr

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

Subscribe For New Book Summaries

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team. Cancel anytime.

Please check your inbox to verify your email address

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap