Matthew McConaughey — The Power of “No, Thank You,” Key Life Lessons, 30+ Years of Diary Notes, and The Art of Catching Greenlights (#474)

Illustration of Matthew McConaughey
Illustration via 99designs

“If all we’re doing is asking ourselves questions but never coming up with an answer, well, that can lead to some very imbalanced insanity at times.”

— Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey (@McConaughey) is a Texas native and one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men. A chance meeting in Austin with casting director and producer Don Phillips led him to director Richard Linklater, who launched the actor’s career in the cult classic Dazed and Confused. Since then, he has won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club, appeared in more than 40 feature films that have grossed more than $1 billion, and has become a producer, director, and philanthropist with his Just Keep Livin’ Foundation—all the while sticking to his Texas roots and “jk livin'” philosophy.

McConaughey also serves as creative director for Wild Turkey and has co-created his own bourbon, Longbranch. He serves as Minister of Culture/M.O.C. for the University of Texas Athletic Department and the Austin FC Soccer Club, where he is part owner. McConaughey will launch his first book, Greenlights, on October 20, 2020. He currently resides in Austin, Texas, with his wife Camilla and their three kids while he is a professor at the University of Texas in Austin.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Brought to you by Wealthfront automated investing, Helix Sleep mattresses, and Magic Spoon cereal.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#474: Matthew McConaughey on His Success Playbooks, The Powerful Philosophy of Greenlights, and Choosing The Paths Less Traveled

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear an episode with a friend Matthew and I have in common? Listen to my most recent conversation with Ryan Holiday in which we discuss using Stoicism to cope with pandemic lockdowns, managing fear when everything seems out of control, fast decisions versus rushed decisions, and much more.

#419: Ryan Holiday — How to Use Stoicism to Choose Alive Time Over Dead Time


  • Connect with Matthew McConaughey:

Official Greenlights Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


  • Matthew comes from peddlin’ stock. What did his father peddle, and what is Matthew’s most vivid memory of him? [06:28]
  • How did the thing Matthew’s mother peddled get him involved in a lengthy legal dispute that had the potential to change his family’s fortune? [08:41]
  • Is it true that Matthew’s parents had an unusual marriage history, and that the words “hate” and “can’t” were forbidden in their household? What lesson did young Matthew learn on one occasion when he said “I can’t” to his father? [15:23]
  • Why has The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino had such an impact on Matthew, and how did he serendipitously happen upon it while studying to be a lawyer? [18:06]
  • Matthew’s 10 goals in life circa 1992, and what he was doing at that point in time. [26:52]
  • What did Matthew mean specifically with goal number five: be an egotistical utilitarian? [31:45]
  • Six: take more risks. Why? [33:42]
  • Why did Matthew start using a diary, and what have been the benefits of doing it for decades? How has its purpose evolved over this span of time? [39:10]
  • Why is Matthew’s new book titled Greenlights? [43:24]
  • A million directions and eight options. Where to go first? Down dirt roads and autobahns, and maybe a footpath of Stoicism. [47:52]
  • Was writing Greenlights in self-prescribed solitary confinement an act of penance? What did the process look like, and how does he address himself when he’s the only one around to talk to? What’s the most important thing to remember when you ask yourself questions? [55:57]
  • The art of running downhill — like when your world’s become inverted by overnight fame and success. [1:00:47]
  • How hard was it for Matthew to start saying “No” to roles he was no longer interested in playing when Hollywood had already typecast him as the rom-com guy — and financially rewarding him accordingly? [1:05:09]
  • What practices helped Matthew get through the 22-month period it took to become “unbranded” as the rom-com guy in the eyes of Hollywood? [1:18:12]
  • What misconceptions does the world have about Matthew that he’d like to clear up? [1:21:30]
  • What would Matthew’s billboard say? [1:27:04]
  • The galvanizing effects of Texas groundwater on optimal storytelling and other parting thoughts. [1:31:00]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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11 Replies to “Matthew McConaughey — The Power of “No, Thank You,” Key Life Lessons, 30+ Years of Diary Notes, and The Art of Catching Greenlights (#474)”

  1. This was a great listen, thank you.

    One comment, isn’t Frost’s poem about widely misinterpreted… IMO the poem is about regret of the chosen path. I am an optimist, but I always read it as the road less taken was the wrong one… both from the title of the poem (The road not taken) and the “sigh” in line 16…

    “I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.”

    Would be interested to get others thoughts, but I know Frost was always trying to trip people up, and I think he has been doing so for over 100 years with this one.


    1. James (and Matthew & Tim),

      Just listened to this episode while walking my dog, love this has already been brought up.

      You’re correct in that this is widely misinterpreted and Frost was consistently contradictory in his own works. In reality, the confusion usually comes from people applying their own thoughts and emotions to the words of a poem. If you read the second stanza, The speaker describes the road he took as
      “[…]just as fair,
      And having perhaps the better claim,
      Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
      Though as for that the passing there
      Had worn them really about the same,”

      And then continues to say that on that particular morning, they really lay rather equally!

      At the end, when the speaker says “and that has made all the difference”, Frost is thumbing his nose at us a little. The speaker is literally reflecting upon the fact that the path he took has brought him to a different point than if he had taken the other road, because he couldn’t take both roads at the same time, being just one traveler. And he knew he probably wouldn’t (and presumably hasn’t) return to that junction and walked down the other road, as way leads on to way.

      People like to wrap this up with other common platitudes to justify actions or decisions. And that’s actually great because it gets people thinking about morality, right action, and so on.

      But really, we just make a ton of choices between mutually exclusive courses of action throughout our lives that legitimately make all the difference. We think.


  2. Hey.
    Just wanted to send my appreciation for you Tim Ferriss and what your team is doing. I’m 40 years old and have been suffering from depression from as early as I can remember. Like you, I have been where the idea of ending my life sounded like the logical solution or a place where I could get rest from me. I have lots of friends who I always joked with, but never revealed how I felt due to the shame. Thanks to you and your struggle and the solutions and information you provide I´ve started to share with friends and work to get well. With the new medicines that are going to be available thanx to you and your work, my son is not going to have a depressed dad. I am so appreciative of you and the beautiful soul you are. That sentence alone would make me vomit in my mouth a couple of years ago :). I can’t thank you enough for what you do.

    Love you Brother and team Ferris. You Fucking rock too.

    Warm regards

  3. Full respect Tim – you’re one of the best in the game; never heard an interview i didn’t enjoy; best thing is you don’t try to make yourself a feature of the discussion; you let your guests share their insights uninteruppted; this one from Matthew McConaughey was great; Thank You

  4. Hey Tim,

    I just recently bought your books “the 4 hour work week” and “tribe of mentors”. I loved the ideas written especially on how to become excited about life!

    Im a 23 year old Filipino residing in the Philippines and Im just very confused about what to do right now. I have a job I dont like and trying to find what suits me best.

    Right now my friends and I are trying to start an online business and I was wondering if you would have the time to answer my question. My question is, “If you were to start a business with little to no money and you are in debt would you focus on building the business or keeping your stable job?”

    I would really appreciate your reply and even if you dont Im really thankful for the ideas that you have brought to this world.


  5. Thank you for another amazing episode.

    I went into this expecting very little (embarrassingly in my mind Matthew McConaughey was still the RomCom guy and boy I was wrong). He is an amazing storyteller and you really brought that to light.

    Some of my favorite moments from this episode were the times when you got him to open up about his father. I find it amazing that, through his lawnmower story, his father is still able to teach a complete stranger like myself that one never *can’t* do anything but only “have trouble”. The detail about his father putting his hand on his shoulders for the first time after the slip of the “can’t” and Matthew adding to the lesson that it’s okay to seek for some help… Wow, my mind was blown.

    I was not only impressed but inspired by how he took the time to explain what he took away from his father’s lessons. Like when he decided to switch gears from aspiring to become a lawyer to an actor and his father’s only ask was for him to “not half ass it”. He took that to heart and really processed that simple request, recognizing the responsibility and freedom that comes with making your own life decisions. I’m there, in that I’m finally realizing I have to make my own decisions and be accountable for them.

    This episode gave me lots to think and feel about. I’m on my way to freshen up, watch the Dallas Buyer’s Club for the first time and ponder how I can become an egotistical utilitarian. Thank you again for your amazing work. It was a lovely listen.

    Take care,

    1. great interview Tim! Long time listener first time commenter I guess, but I had to say you did a great job with this one. I half-listened to Matthew’s interviews for promoting this same book on other successful podcasts and it was boring but not this one man, so I just thought I should say great job and maybe you should think about doing this professionally :)))…hope to meet you someday. stay safe!

  6. I would have never read this book if it weren’t for the podcast. It was like having coffee with friends, except I just shut up and listened. I picked up the book on Audible right after the podcast. It was fantastic. I think we all just needed a good laugh, some head nods, and a spark of motivation that Mr. McConaughey delivered beautifully.