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Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

Read more on Amazon.

Rating: 8 / 10

Thoughts

An amazing story told by an expert storyteller. I just had to grab the Audiobook version. Listening to Matthew tell the story was 110% worth it. I read the book while listening.


💡 Top 3-5 Ideas, Concepts, or Quotes

Don't half-ass it.

“It is not about win or lose, it is about do you accept the challenge,”

Don’t create imaginary constraints. A leading role, a blue ribbon, a winning score, a great idea, the love of our life, euphoric bliss, who are we to think we don’t deserve these fortunes when they are in our grasp? Who are we to think we haven’t earned them?

Reach beyond your grasp. Have immortal finish lines and turn your red light green because a roof is a man made thing.

🔦📒 Highlights & Notes

What’s a Greenlight?

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. They’re cash money, birth, springtime, health, success, joy, sustainability, innocence, and fresh starts. We love greenlights. They don’t interfere with our direction. They’re easy. They’re a shoeless summer. They say yes and give us what we want.

Greenlights can also be disguised as yellow and red lights. A caution, a detour, a thoughtful pause, an interruption, a disagreement, indigestion, sickness, and pain. A full stop, a jackknife, an intervention, failure, suffering, a slap in the face, death. We don’t like yellow and red lights. They slow us down or stop our flow. They’re hard. They’re a shoeless winter. They say no, but sometimes give us what we need.

Catching greenlights is about skill: intent, context, consideration, endurance, anticipation, resilience, speed, and discipline. We can catch more greenlights by simply identifying where the red lights are in our life, and then change course to hit fewer of them. We can also earn greenlights, engineer and design for them. We can create more and schedule them in our future—a path of least resistance—through force of will, hard work, and the choices we make. We can be responsible for greenlights.

Catching greenlights is also about timing. The world’s timing, and ours. When we are in the zone, on the frequency, and with the flow. We can catch greenlights by sheer luck, because we are in the right place at the right time. Catching more of them in our future can be about intuition, karma, and fortune. Sometimes catching greenlights is about fate.

We either persist and continue in our present pursuit of a desired result, pivot and take a new tack to get it, or concede altogether and tally one up for fate. We push on, call an audible, or wave the white flag and live to fight another day.

...

The secret to our satisfaction lies in which one of these we choose to do when.

It’s a matter of how we see the challenge in front of us and how we engage with it. Persist, pivot, or concede. It’s up to us, our choice every time.

This is a book about how to catch more yeses in a world of nos and how to recognize when a no might actually be a yes. This is a book about catching greenlights and realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green.

Part One: Outlaw Logic

On the importance of values

I got my mouth washed out with soap for saying “shit,” “damn,” and “fuck,” but I only ever got in real trouble for the using or doing of the words that could harm me. Words that hurt. The words that helped engineer who I am because they were more than just words; they were expectations and consequences.
They were values.
My parents taught me that I was named my name for a reason.
They taught me not to hate.
To never say I can’t.
To never lie.
Greenlight.

Create structure so you can have freedom.

Map your direction so you can swerve in the lanes.

Clean up so you can get dirty.

Learn to read and write before you start making up words.

Check if the pool has water in it before you dive in.

Learn to sail before you fly.

Earn your Saturdays.

We need discipline, guidelines, context, and responsibility early in any new endeavor. It’s the time to sacrifice. To learn, to observe, to take heed.

If and when we get knowledge of the space, the craft, the people, and the plan, then we can let our freak flag fly, and create.

Creativity needs borders.

Individuality needs resistance.

Part Two: Find Your Frequency

process of elimination and identity
The first step that leads to our identity in life is usually not I know who I am, but rather I know who I’m not. Process of elimination.
Too many options can make a tyrant out of any of us, so we should get rid of the excess in our lives that keep us from being more of ourselves. When we decrease the options that don’t feed us, we eventually, almost accidentally, have more options in front of us that do.
Knowing who we are is hard. Eliminate who we’re not first, and we’ll find ourselves where we need to be.

Part Three: Dirt Roads and Autobahns

A realization came to me. I carved these words into a tree:
less impressed,
more involved.

The sooner we become less impressed with our life, our accomplishments, our career, our relationships, the prospects in front of us—the sooner we become less impressed and more involved with these things—the sooner we get better at them. We must be more than just happy to be here.
All the mortal things that I had been revering in my life, everything I was looking up to in awe, suddenly came down to eye level in front of me. All the mortal things that I looked down upon and patronized in my life, suddenly rose up to eye level.

When we know what we want to do,
knowing when to do it is the hard part.
Get em early so you don’t have to get em as often.
Prevent before the cure, habilitate before the re.

“Well…Don’t half-ass it.”

What Matthew's dad told him after saying that he wanted to go to film school rather than law school

biology and giddyup
DNA and work.
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.

“Dean,” I said, looking him directly in the eye, “you and I both know that a degree in film production doesn’t mean squat to studio heads in Hollywood and New York City. It means nothing to the people that make movies. They want to see a product. A film, a performance, something. The only reason I’m skipping class is to go out into the world and try and make something that those people will want to purchase. I’m chasing things outside of the classroom that the classroom is teaching me to chase.” Then I had an idea, and I blurted it out. “If I promise to make it to every exam day in class, will you just gimme C’s across the board?”

What you learn in school is only part of the equation. Sometimes, it's better to get C's and have done something great outside of school than only getting A's.

oneinarow
Any success takes one in a row.
Do one thing well, then another.
Once, then once more.
Over and over until the end,
then it’s oneinarow again.

dirt roads and autobahns
The road less traveled may not be a dirt road; for some, it may be the autobahn.
Robert Frost was right, taking the road less traveled can make all the difference.
But that road isn’t necessarily the road with the least traffic.
It may be the road that we, personally, have traveled less.
The introvert may need to get out of the house, engage with the world, get public.
The extrovert may need to stay home and read a book.
Sometimes we need to get out there, sometimes we need to get in there. Some days our road less traveled is a solitary dirt trail.
On others it’s the subway on the 7 line.

Part Four: The Art of Running Downhill

I did learn a good lesson that day, though.
We have to prepare to have freedom.
We have to do the work to then do the job.
We have to prepare for the job so we can be free to do the work.

if only
Means you wanted something but did not get it.
For some reason, either by your own incompetence or the world’s intervention, it did not happen.
Sometimes this is just the breaks and we need to bow out gracefully.
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.
The more boots we put in the back side of our if onlys, the more we will get what we want.
Don’t walk the it’s too late it’s too soon tightrope until you die.

Creating ceilings for ourselves — why do we choke?

It happens because when we mentally give a person, place, or point in time more credit than ourselves, we then create a fictitious ceiling, a restriction, over the expectations we have of our own performance in that moment. We get tense, we focus on the outcome instead of the activity, and we miss the doing of the deed. We either think the world depends on the result, or it’s too good to be true. But it doesn’t, and it isn’t, and it’s not our right to believe it does or is.

When we truly latch on to the fact that we are going to die at some point in time, we have more presence in this one.
Reach beyond your grasp, have immortal finish lines, and turn your red light green, because a roof is a man-made thing.

Don’t create imaginary constraints. A leading role, a blue ribbon, a winning score, a great idea, the love of our life, euphoric bliss, who are we to think we don’t deserve these fortunes when they are in our grasp? Who are we to think we haven’t earned them?

If we stay in process, within ourselves, in the joy of the doing, we will never choke at the finish line. Why? Because we aren’t thinking of the finish line, we’re not looking at the clock, we’re not watching ourselves on the Jumbotron performing. We are performing in real time, where the approach is the destination, and there is no goal line because we are never finished.

Noise-to-signal ratio.
We are more constantly bombarded by unnatural stimuli than ever before.
We need to put ourselves in places of decreased sensory input so we can hear the background signals of our psychological processes.

Have some quiet time once in a while. Think. Reflect.

The Socratic dialogue can be ugly, painful, lonesome, hard, guilt-ridden, and a nightmare vicious enough to need a mouth guard not to gnaw our fangs into nubs while we sweat cold in feverish panic.
We are forced to confront ourselves.
And this is good.
We more than deserve this suffrage, we’ve earned it.
An honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind, and no matter who’s in our bed each night, we sleep with ourselves.
We either forgive or get sick and tired of it

Sometimes we don’t need advice. Sometimes we just need to hear we’re not the only one.

the art of running downhill
Don’t trip yourself while running downhill.
That mountain you wanna climb?
It’s just around the corner.
Don’t invent drama.
It will come on its own.

When crossing truth

God, when I cross the truth, give me
the awareness to receive it
the consciousness to recognize it
the presence to personalize it
the patience to preserve it
and the courage to live it

First, we have to put ourselves in the place to receive the truth. This noisy world we live in, with its commitments, deadlines, fix thises, do thats, and expectations make it hard to get clarity and peace of mind, famous or not. So we have to consciously put ourselves in a place to receive that clarity. Whether that’s prayer, meditation, a walkabout, being in the right company, a road trip, whatever it is for each of us.

Then, after we’ve put ourselves in this place to listen to the gospel and hear their music, we then have to be aware enough to receive it, and conscious enough to recognize it. It will arrive nameless because it is clear, omnipresent, unanimous, and infinite. It usually lands like a butterfly, quick and quiet. When we let it in, it needs no introduction.

Then the relationship can begin, and we need the presence to personalize it. This is where the anonymous truth gets intimate, and becomes autonomous. We ask our self what it means, how it’s unique to us, and why it’s here now.

Then comes a harder part, having the patience to preserve it— getting it from our intellect, into our bones, soul, and instinct. We must pay attention to it, concentrate on it, keep it lit, and not let it flutter away. This takes commitment, time, and ’tendance.

If we make it this far, after we’ve put ourselves in the right place to receive the truth, recognized it as such, made it our own, and preserved it, then comes the coup de grâce…

Having the courage to live it. To actually walk away from that place where it found us, take that truth with us into the screaming arena of our daily lives, practice it, and make it an active part of who we are.

Part Five: Turn the Page

“It is not about win or lose, it is about do you accept the challenge,”

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