Greenlights Book Summary by Matthew McConaughey (2022)

Table of Contents
1-Page Summary1-Page Book Summary of Greenlights Orientation: Greenlights Growing Up McConaughey Discovering His Personal Frequency Leaving Home Want to learn the rest of Greenlights in 21 minutes? Greenlights Summary Introduction Orientation Try Shortform for free Greenlights Summary Part 1: Growing Up McConaughey Jim and Kay McConaughey What Our Readers Say Shortform Exercise: Consider Your Inherited Structure Try Shortform for free Greenlights Summary Part 2: Discovering Your Personal Frequency Why people love using Shortform Shortform Exercise: Find Your Frequency Try Shortform for free Greenlights Summary Part 3: Becoming Immersed What Our Readers Say Shortform Exercise: Become More Involved With Your Life Try Shortform for free Greenlights Summary Part 4: Made for the Moment Hollywood Beginnings Want to read the rest of this Shortform Exercise: Find Your Freedom Try Shortform for free Greenlights Summary Part 5: Turning the Page The Art of Bongoing Naked What Our Readers Say Shortform Exercise: Turn the Page of Your Life Try Shortform for free Greenlights Summary Part 6: Learning the Secret of Genius What Our Readers Say Shortform Exercise: Practice Being a Genius Try Shortform for free Greenlights Summary Part 7: Defining Your Own Success What Our Readers Say Shortform Exercise: Define Your Success Try Shortform for free Greenlights Summary Part 8: Starting With the End What Our Readers Say Shortform Exercise: Map Your Life Try Shortform for free Videos

1-Page Summary1-Page Book Summary of 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.

Orientation: Greenlights

Matthew believes the positive aspects of a person’s life can be explained by the concept of “greenlights.” These are events that let you know your life is on the right track. A greenlight could take many different forms, such as success, prosperity, meeting the love of your life, or witnessing the birth of your child. Or it could be a simple sense of rightness and well-being. You can “catch” greenlights through luck or earn them through smart living.

Life also has yellow and red lights—detours, illnesses, failures. You have three choices when you come up against yellow or red lights: Persist, pivot for a different approach, or surrender. Just remember that reds and yellows, like greenlights, lead you to your destiny. The art of living is to understand how and when to select wisely from among the three different responses whenever you receive a red or yellow light.

Growing Up McConaughey

Family of Five

Matthew grew up in a family ruled by a combination of strong values and “outlaw logic”—an inheritance from their ancestors, a group that included cattle thieves, riverboat gamblers, and a bodyguard for Al Capone. He spent his first 10 years in Uvalde, Texas, with his parents, Jim and Kay, and his older brothers, Mike and Pat. Jim worked in the oil industry and had a big personality. Kay was tough and opinionated, with an inclination to deny unpleasant realities. Their marriage was tumultuous and sometimes violent. They divorced and remarried twice.

They raised their boys to appreciate the power of language. For example, Matthew once received a “whupping” for saying “I can’t.” Jim and Kay taught their boys never to use hateful words, never to claim to be helpless, and never to lie. Matthew later recognized this childhood training as an early greenlight.

He credits his mother’s power of denial with helping to form his actor’s sensibility. For example, she once had him enter a plagiarized poem, written by a professional poet, in a school contest, telling him that since he found the poem meaningful, in a way it really did belong to him. He won the contest.

Longview, Texas, and the Tallest Treehouse in the World

When Matthew was around 10, he built an enormous treehouse that proved to be a greenlight because it gave him a sense of peace and rightness during a dislocated time. This happened when his family moved to Longview, where Matthew spent the summer building the treehouse in a huge white pine, using stolen lumber. He kept the project secret and worked 12-hour days to complete it. The final result was 13 stories high. He spent the rest of the summer sitting on the top floor and daydreaming as he gazed out over the forest. He has always remembered that summer as the best of his life.

Rites of Passage

Jim McConaughey valued rites of passage to manhood, and he saw that each of his boys received one. Matthew’s happened during his senior year of high school when he came home one night and lied to Jim about having stolen a pizza from Pizza Hut. He knew that he only needed to admit the truth, which would earn him some yelling and maybe a few lashes from a belt, but nothing more. In fact, it would earn him respect. But he maintained the lie, and Jim backhanded him across the face for it. Matthew panicked, cried, and wet his pants as Jim continued to rage at him. He had failed the test.

He got a second chance—and passed—a year later when he defended his father from a pool hall bouncer who accused him of not paying his bill. Matthew flew into a rage and beat the bouncer senseless. That night, Jim called all of his buddies and proudly told them that Matthew was going to be alright. The youngest son had proved himself and become one of the men. This passage to manhood was a greenlight.

Discovering His Personal Frequency

After graduating from high school, the major theme in Matthew’s life became that of finding his identity. He encountered a life-transforming greenlight when he spent a year in Australia as an exchange student. His experiences there led him to the idea of finding his own frequency—of being true to himself.

In Australia, he stayed with a host family, the Dooleys, who proved to be pointedly eccentric. Matthew’s most innocent actions, such as praising cheeseburgers or expressing pride in an American athlete, earned him stern lectures from the father, Norvel, about the superiority of English culture and the wrongness of Matthew’s audacity in sharing his opinions. At one point, Norvel announced that he and Marjorie had decided that Matthew should call them Mum and Pop. Matthew refused, saying that he already had parents. Living in such a strange and unfamiliar environment forced Matthew to find his frequency.

Leaving Home

Away to University

Matthew caught more greenlights when he attended the University of Texas at Austin and decided to enter the film school. When he hesitantly ran this “artsy” idea past Jim, his father just told him not to “half-ass it”—the best validation Matthew could have received, and a significant greenlight. Other greenlights included his decision to remain true to his own taste in movies when his film school classmates scorned the Hollywood...

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Greenlights Summary Introduction

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 approach to recognizing and even creating those moments when life says “yes” and you cruise into success as you pursue your destiny.

Orientation

As you head into Matthew’s story, you’ll better understand his thought process and personal lingo if you first understand his signature concepts of inevitability, relativity, and greenlights.

Inevitability and Relativity

“Inevitability” refers to inescapable facts: the non-negotiable realities that life hands you, such as your parents, place of birth, and events beyond your choice.

“Relativity” refers to a person's choices in response to the inevitable facts in...

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Greenlights Summary Part 1: Growing Up McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey’s family line includes cattle thieves, riverboat gamblers, and a bodyguard for Al Capone. He says the McConaughey mode of seeing and being in the world follows a kind of “outlaw logic.”

In relating the story of his boyhood in rural Texas, Matthew draws a number of lessons from his most formative experiences. Chief among these are the following:

(Video) Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey - Animated Book Summary

  • Like everything in life, the Golden Rule (“Treat others as you want to be treated”) demands moderation. Sometimes other people don’t want what you want.
  • Words are more than just words. Because they create expectations and consequences, words represent values. So be careful with what you say, both about other people and about yourself.
  • You can enjoy freedom by honoring structure. Even more: You can learn to create your own structure. Without structure, there’s only chaos. So discipline yourself. Learn difficult skills. Create guidelines. Real freedom and creativity need borders, just like real individuality needs the resistance of other people’s identities.

Jim and Kay McConaughey

Jim McConaughey, Matthew’s father, came from Patterson, Mississippi, and grew up in Louisiana. His three...

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Shortform Exercise: Consider Your Inherited Structure

In Part 1, Matthew describes some of the life experiences that taught him to honor structure if you want to be free. This exercise leads you to reflect on your own inherited structures and the ways you can honor them.

What are some of the “structures” you inherited from your childhood, whether values, habits of mind, or codes of conduct? How did your upbringing teach you to think, talk, and live?

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Greenlights Summary Part 2: 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:

  • 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...

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Shortform Exercise: Find Your Frequency

As a high school senior and then an exchange student, Matthew found that you can discover your frequency (learn who you are) by learning who you aren’t and getting rid of things that aren’t right for you. This exercise helps you to begin the process of sorting these things out in your own life.

Recount a situation where you were asked or pressured to do something that you knew was wrong for you.

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Greenlights Summary Part 3: Becoming Immersed

Having begun to learn who he was by discovering who he wasn’t, and having at last passed the threshold to manhood, Matthew was now ready to head into the world of college and career. In this stage of his life, he went to film school at the University of Texas at Austin, gained his first real film role as Wooderson in Dazed and Confused, suffered the loss of his father, moved to Hollywood, and took a motorcycle tour of Europe. The insights and lessons he gained from all of these experiences include the following:

  • Life is a combination of DNA and willpower, innate ability, and hard work.
  • People everywhere have fundamentally similar needs. These include the needs for love, family, community, and a future hope. Such things are our shared values. If you’ll relate to people on this level instead of dwelling on what separates us, then real communication becomes possible beyond the fraught political factors of such things as gender and race.
  • We’re here not merely to tolerate each other’s differences but to accept and celebrate them. We’re also here to celebrate the places where our values unite us.
  • The proverbial “road less traveled” can mean different things for...

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Shortform Exercise: Become More Involved With Your Life

The loss of Matthew’s father made him realize that he needed to lose his childhood view of being “impressed” by life and assume the adult responsibility of being more involved with it. This exercise will help you explore this principle in your own experience.

What are some of the iconic presences in your life, the figures of “mythic” stature? Your parents? Your religion? Your job?

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(Video) Greenlights Book Summary - Matthew McConaughey - Autobiography

Greenlights Summary Part 4: Made for the Moment

Matthew had graduated from film school. He had acted in two feature films. He had moved to Hollywood. Now he was ready to begin his career in earnest. In this part, we’ll look at his early years in Hollywood, when he found rapid success followed quickly by full superstardom. He struggled to handle his newfound celebrity, and the quest to maintain his personal center of gravity led him to New Mexico, Peru, the Amazon, and finally, to America’s backroads.

Insights and lessons from this period of his life include the following:

  • Freedom and preparation are not mutually exclusive. Freedom requires preparation.
  • We’re all perfectly made for whatever moment we find ourselves in.
  • The truth surrounds us all the time, but we aren’t always able to recognize it or receive it.
  • To receive the truth, first you have to put yourself in a situation where you’re able to receive it. Then you have to be conscious enough to recognize it.

Hollywood Beginnings

When Matthew returned to Hollywood from Europe, he immediately received well-paying roles in two high-profile movies, Boys on the Side and Angels in the Outfield. He was off to a promising start, but his early...

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(Video) GreenLights by Matthew McConaughey: Animated Book Summary

Shortform Exercise: Find Your Freedom

Matthew learned a hard lesson about the importance of balancing freedom with preparation. This exercise will help you to learn more about the balance of these intertwined principles in your own life.

Some people place too much emphasis on preparation and control. Others place too much emphasis on freedom and spontaneity. Which one are you?

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Greenlights Summary Part 5: Turning the Page

After three years on the road, Matthew began to crave a more settled and domestic lifestyle, one with clean sheets and more water pressure. This new period of life led him to a new house, a night in jail, a life of glittering pleasure and ease, and the world of romantic comedy movies. It also led him to take a movie role as a dragon slayer and to chase a dream to Africa, after which he could no longer accept the Hollywood life.

Matthew learned the following insights and lessons from this time:

  • Sometimes the important thing isn’t which choice you make. Sometimes the important thing is just to make a 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. Just turn the page.

The Art of Bongoing Naked

Matthew ended his RV-days by renting a two-bedroom house in Tarrytown, a sleepy neighborhood in Austin. It was there that one of the most famous (or notorious) incidents in his life-after-fame took place.

One night after partying for 32 hours straight in sheer exuberance over a major win by his beloved football team, the Texas Longhorns, he decided to strip naked, smoke some weed,...

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Shortform Exercise: Turn the Page of Your Life

Matthew writes about the idea of “turning the page” of your life when you need a significant change. This exercise will help you to reflect on this idea and apply it to your life.

We’ve all gone through page-turning transitions in our lives, times when everything changed dramatically. What was one of yours?

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Greenlights Summary Part 6: Learning the Secret of Genius

Matthew had decided to turn the page on his life by buying a house where he might be able to raise a family. Now he just had to figure out what his life’s next chapter would be about. Little did he know that he would soon meet the woman of his dreams, get married, become a father, and leave Hollywood to return to his home state of Texas.

This period of his life brought home the following lessons and insights:

  • In human relationships, both distance and nearness are important. Too much closeness to most people would wear us out; we need our space from them. But there are other people who look better to us the closer we get to them, such as our children, spouse, and best friends. These close relationships can be painful and costly, but they’re the most deeply rewarding.
  • We can also experience both distance and nearness in relationship to ourselves—self-distance when we act inauthentic, self-closeness when we remain true to who we are.
  • Sometimes we need to stop trying to make things happen and simply let them happen. Our souls are magnetic. They attract what we want and need. Instead of the arrow seeking the target, the target draws the arrow.
  • **The secret of...

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Shortform Exercise: Practice Being a Genius

When Camila was pregnant, Matthew narrowed his focus by cutting various things out of his life. He identifies this paring away of extraneous activities and relationships as the key to genius. This exercise will help you identify areas where you may be able to narrow your own focus to unleash your potential for genius.

(Video) Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey | Summary & Insights

What are the major obligations that fill up your life right now? What people, organizations, and activities claim the majority of your time, energy, and attention?

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Greenlights Summary Part 7: Defining Your Own Success

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...

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Shortform Exercise: Define Your Success

Matthew walked away from his successful brand in Hollywood to pursue the creative projects that would mean real success to him. This exercise will help you define what success means to you.

What are some of the real successes you’ve achieved in life? Focus not on outward acclaim but your inward sense of happiness and accomplishment. What have you done that has made you feel like you really accomplished something worthwhile? (If possible, name several things.)

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Greenlights Summary Part 8: Starting With the End

Even as the McConaissance unfolded, Matthew’s life continued to be not just about his career, but about his family. [restricted term] and the kids were at the center of his thoughts and plans, and soon he felt the need to make a more formal commitment to them. At the same time, he won the biggest accolade of his acting career (an Oscar), only to find himself soon questioning his future direction as an actor. When he reached the age of 50, his thoughts turned toward both backward and forward, leading him to reflect on where he had been and where he was going.

Insights and lessons from this period include the following:

  • Prayer is a time for taking inventory of yourself while mentally and spiritually embracing other people who need your compassion. It’s a time to see others as they really are and recognize their inner light. And it’s a time to return to yourself and simply be who you are.
  • Learning to deal with the inevitable is the key to success. Ultimately, this means beginning with the end in mind, because the ultimate inevitability is death. The lives we lead on the way to death represent our relativity. The ultimate fusion of relativity with inevitability is...

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Shortform Exercise: Map Your Life

Matthew’s concept of living wisely by beginning with the end (your death) in mind can serve as a focusing tool for planning what you want to accomplish. This exercise guides you through applying it.

How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your eventual eulogy to say?

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(Video) Greenlights | Matthew McConaughey | Book Summary

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