Greenlights (Matthew McConaughey) - Book Summary, Notes & Highlights

The book "Greenlights" on top of a stone wall with a hill and a brick house in the background
Picture of the book taken by me

Matthew McConaughey shares stories from his diaries from the last four decades. In this biography, he shares successes, failures, lessons, laughs, and sorrows. As a reader you laugh a lot, question many parts, and learn a thing or two about life.

Greenlights = "Mean go - advance, carry on, continue... In our lives, they are an affirmation of our way. They're approvals, support praise, gifts, gas on our fire, attaboys, and appetites."

⏳The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. The life of Matthew McConaughey told through great stories that he has written down over the years in his diaries.
  2. Live life to the fullest and adapt to the situations and challenges you face in life.
  3. Try to avoid red lights in life and instead chase greenlights that let your life continue down a good path.


This a book that tells the reader about Matthew McConaughey through a diverse set of stories from his diaries. The book shares his hardships, adventures, life lessons, and many good laughs. It is obvious that he has some serious storytelling skills and I found it hard to put the book down. I finished the book in less than three days and highly enjoyed reading it.

The book is written from the perspective of McConaughey and this combined with the fact that it is based on his diaries contributes to a very personal feeling in the book. Throughout the book, you feel like you get to peek into the mind of McConaughey and you can feel his charisma through the pages.

📖Who Should Read It?

The book is a love letter to life and the things that make life worth living. Matthew McConaughey shares important lessons through stories from his life. It is an entertaining biography full of small pearls of wisdom and many silly things too. I believe you will enjoy the book if:

  • You enjoy stories about growing up and the challenges around finding your way in life.
  • You have an interest in Matthew McConaughey and the story of his life
  • You like biographies and enjoy reading a book from the perspective of the author. The book is full of many strange and entertaining stories from the author's life

📝Summary + Notes

1. Don't let excuses get in the way of success

It is easy to blame your circumstances or someone else for your failures, but that will not get you any closer to success. Don't let there be any chance that you will be overlooked, perform so well that you cannot be denied and success will follow, that is what the first quote below states. McConaughey also highlights that many people will be inclined to think "if only..." this or that they would have been successful, this might be true but making excuses will not get you closer to whatever it is you are trying to achieve. Therefore you must be honest with yourself, did you give it your all or did you leave something out there and that is why you failed?

"if you're not a starter and you think you should be, give em no choice in the decision. play so well it's undeniable."
"If only. Means you wanted something but did not get it... But more often than we care to admit, we don't get what we want because we quit early or we didn't take the necessary risk to get it"

2. Get relative with the inevitable

Getting relative means taking action to deal with a situation, your agency. The inevitable are situations that we cannot influence and they are therefore inevitable and not something that should be of our concern. This perspective is similar to how stoicism tells us to live our lives, by focusing on the things in our control. Matthew writes that death is inevitable, it is the unanimous end. However, the journey there, life, is relative. We all have a personal and singular journey until we die.

"The inevitability of a situation is not relative... how we choose to deal with it is relative"
"Stepping in shit is inevitable, so let's either see it as good luck, or figure out how to doit less often"

3. Hard work and struggle is what makes you interesting

McConaughey highlights the importance of hard work for success in life and states that even people who get both innate talent and a good work ethic never rely solely on talent but instead on hard work to get them to success. For me this is an essential insight in life, we only control how much work and practice we put into something, but can't control the talent we are born with. Optimally we find something we are talented in and work hard to excel in that field, but in general, having a good work ethic with not a lot of talent is a more desirable trait than someone with a lot of talent but no work ethic. Being passionate about something and working hard to improve it will always be interesting to hear about. You can feel when someone is passionate about a topic and it makes it infinitely more rewarding to listen to someone like that.

"Genetics and willpower. Life's a combination. Some get the genes but never the work ethic or resilience. Others work their ass off but never had the innate ability. Others have both and never rely on the first."
"What happened? I wondered. Then one day it hit me. I lost my truck. I lost the effort, the hustle, the mudding, and the megaphone. I lost the fun."

The quote above is Matthew contemplating why he was not having any success with the ladies anymore after having traded in his truck for a sports car. In the process he becomes complacent. This complacency and lack of hustle made him less charming and highlighted the importance of putting in the effort to be interesting.

4. The power of the process of elimination

A great way to become more focused and achieve more success in a chosen arena is through the process of elimination. To become great at something we often have to eliminate other things from our lives. Prioritization is a key skill for anyone wanting to live a happy and successful life.

"Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate"
"The great man is not all to each, he is each to all. The genius can do anything but does one thing at a time."

5. Be mindful of what you want

It is important to be aware of what we want in life and also the fact that different people have different needs. McConaughey tells us that we should not do something just because we can. For example, you don't need to order lobster just because you can afford it if you don't like it. So take a minute to evaluate if you want something before accepting, I think this is an important lesson to avoid lifestyle creep (the phenomenon where your spending rises just as rapidly as your income does).

"When you CAN, ask yourself if you WANT to before you do..."
"The road less traveled may not be a dirt road; for some, it may be the autobahn."

6. Set yourself up for success

Any success will start with doing one thing well and then repeating it. So start by doing one thing well and then continue to do another well and keep doing things well and you will reach success. This reminded me of Atomic Habits and the power of becoming 1% better every day. McConaughey also talks about the importance of finding the book The Greatest Salesman in the World and reading the line "I will form good habits and become their slave". His first reaction was to break a bad habit; namely lying to himself about wanting to become a lawyer and therefore decided to call his dad to tell him he did not no longer want to be a lawyer and would instead enroll in film school.

Another important point here is to enjoy the good times because the bad times will come eventually. So don't focus too much on future trouble as it will inevitably come. This sentiment reminds me of the following quote from Amos Tversky: "When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens you live it twice. Once when you worry about it and the second time when it happens".

"the art of running downhill. Don't trip yourself while running downhill. That mountain you wanna climb? It's just around the corner"