Just when you think you know a guy, he goes and writes a memoir that completely blows your preconceptions out of the water.
I don’t do many book reviews on my blog. When I do, it’s because I was super impressed by the author’s storytelling ability or because I found the themes of the book so impactful. In Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey checks both boxes. Like many others, I’ve enjoyed the majority of his movies and bought into the version of McConaughey, the man, as a pot-smoking; naked, bongo-playing; airheaded; beach-loving intellectual-lightweight just breezing his way through one rom-com after another with the occasional “artsy film” thrown in to maintain his self-respect as an actor. It’s an image McConaughey admits he helped to create and perpetuate, and one he, rightly, does not apologize for. The fact of the matter, however, is that the guy is a modern-day Renaissance Man.
I’m aware that any first-person storytelling, fictional or nonfictional, needs to be read with a tad bit of skepticism regarding the veracity of the story the narrator tells. All people, when telling their own stories, tend to embellish their positive traits and achievements and understate their negative ones. In John Mayer’s song, “Why Georgia,” he asks himself, “Am I livin’ it right?” After reading Greenlights, I’m confident that if there ever was a person who could answer that question in the affirmative, it’s Matthew McConaughey. I absolutely love my life, but if I was ever given the magical opportunity to trade my life for anyone of my choosing, I wouldn’t do it, but I would be tempted to do so with McConaughey.
I and anyone else who bought into that simpleminded characterization of the man as an airheaded doofus could not have been further from knowing the truth of the man. Which is that Matthew McConaughey is a highly-educated, well-read, deep-thinking, soulful philosopher for the everyman. This much more accurate portrait of the man is made abundantly clear in Greenlights.
A traffic light is the extended metaphor that McConaughey uses throughout the book. It suggests that, at various junctures in each of our lives, we arrive at red, yellow, and green lights. At such intersections, it is vital that we understand the significance of the color of the traffic light we face and that we proceed accordingly in order to navigate our lives in a manner that allows us to experience our best life and to be our best selves. In order to do so, McConaughey reminds us that “Life is not a popularity contest. Be brave, take the hill but first, answer the question, ‘What is my hill?'”
Red lights come in many forms: rejections, job loss, divorce, the death of a loved one, etc. According to McConaughey, “We all step in shit from time to time. We hit roadblocks, we fuck up, we get fucked, we get sick, we don’t get what we want, we cross thousands of ‘could have done better’s and ‘wish that wouldn’t have happened’s’ in life. Stepping in shit is inevitable, so let’s either see it as good luck, or figure out how to do it less often.” When stopped cold by one of life’s red lights we must “[p]ersist, pivot, or concede. It’s up to us, our choice every time.”
Yellow lights are life’s “caution[s], a detour, a thoughtful pause, an interruption, a disagreement, indigestion, sickness, and pain.” They don’t stop us cold but remind us to slow down and proceed with more caution. The good news is that “Red and yellow lights eventually turn green in the rearview mirror.”
Greenlights, as you would assume, are those moments in life that affirm that we are on the right path and that urge us to continue full steam ahead. They are 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.” McConaughey implies that there are most likely many more greenlights on the road of life we travel than red or yellow, but many of us are hesitant to accept that Fortune is — more often than not –actually smiling upon us. Perhaps my favorite quotation from the book reflects this idea. McConaughey writes, “I have a lot of proof that the world is conspiring to make me happy.” The same is true for the majority of us, but for some reason, too many of us doubt our good fortune or simply choose to focus harder on our bad.
I often surprise people when I tell them I don’t believe in happiness — at least not as a constant state of being. Like an emotion, happiness cannot be sustained; it can only be experienced in fleeting moments. Instead, I believe in joy. I try to identify as many of the the people, things, and experiences that bring me joy and then purposefully pursue them. So, I was thrilled when I read, “If happiness is what you’re after, then you are going to be let down frequently and be unhappy much of your time. Joy, though, is something else.” If I can string enough moments of joy together along the way of the road of life I travel, I figure it’ll come pretty close to a sustained state of happiness.
Technically, Matthew McConaughey’s book is a memoir, but it’s the best self-help book I’ve ever read. I’m going to finish my review with a final bit of advice from this book of Matthew: “So to any of us . . . whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasin’. To that I say: Amen. To that I say: Alright, alright, alright. To that I say: Just keep livin’. “
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