Austin, TX

Lessons On the Art of Livin,’ From Matthew McConaughey’s Book, Greenlights

Vincent Van Patten

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Photo by Dallas Reedy on Unsplash

the Austin, Texas airport on my way back home to California, I picked up Matthew McConaughey’s memoir, Greenlights.

McConaughey is a slick-haired smooth-talkin’ Texan, and one of the leading men in Hollywood. As a proud University of Texas alumni, he’s a symbol of the Texas capitol; it only felt right to get the book while I was there.

A friend told me last week about an interview McConaughey did with Tim Ferris. He told me I’d enjoy the interview, as McConaughey talks about how journaling has made him who he is in life.

Journaling has been instrumental in my life over the last few years, and what he said hit home. I wrote a story about that interview and how his journaling practices resonated with me.

However, this piece is about another topic I came across in Greenlights.

The more I learn about McConaughey, the more his story fascinates me. The more I learn, the more tremendous value I find in what he’s saying. I’m finding my way in the world, and he’s twice as old as me.

I’m going to listen to advice wherever I can get it. What we do with that is up to us.

A green light is a sign in our life that tells us to continue, to carry on and do our thing. Green lights make us feel authentically like us. The book is about how and where McConaughey has found green lights in his life.

It’s how he’s turned red lights and yellow lights into green lights. He’s an imperfect human being who I believe is trying his best.

I feel I’ve found this book for a reason — perhaps it’s a green light in my life.

“This is the art of livin,” he writes.
“I believe everything we do in life is part of a plan. Sometimes the plan goes as intended, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s part of the plan. Realizing this is a green light in itself. In this life or the next, what goes down will come up.”

Conservative Early, Liberal Late

I enjoy the fact that this book is more than just text. There are pictures from his life, photocopies of his notes, poems he’s written, and guidelines he’s placed.

On one of the pages, the headline reads: “Conservative Early, Liberal Late.”

The rest of the page continues in bullet points:

“Create structure so you can have freedom. Create your weather so you can blow in the wind. Map your direction so you can swerve in the lanes. Clean up so you can get dirty. Choreograph, then dance. Learn to read and write before you start making up words.
Creativity needs borders. Individuality needs resistance. The earth needs gravity. Without them there is no form. No art. Only chaos.”

Create structure so you can have freedom

What I take away from these points is to first, do everything you can to find out who you authentically are. You may then explore to the fullest degree, all that makes life, life.

Without a central compass to always return, we’ll become a product of our environment, with no rock-solid core.

I went to Austin this past weekend with my brother to visit some of his best friends whom I’ve become close with as well over the years. We’re all in our twenties, a stage that people love to give their advice on, which is understandable.

Your twenties are your time to experience. Your twenties are your time to put your head down and grind. Your twenties are your time to have a good time and get the party out of your system.

Ya, well, maybe that advice is what you wish you were told. Or, it’s what you believe because it’s what you did. There is no one size fits all answer to how any of us should be living our lives.

That’s what makes this time frightening; but also, a time of liberation. I and the guys I hung out with are all doing something different — some of us are partying harder than others, some are working longer hours and grinding, some are married and buying houses. We’re good guys, doing respectable things.

But still, at this age, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing what others are doing and being tough on ourselves for not being at that stage. That’s why McConaughey’s sentiment is resonating with me.

I believe this time is about honing in on who we truly are, and what we want. The more I know about myself, the more confident I am to be happy for where others are in their journey, because I know I’m where I’m supposed to be in mine. Working diligently to discover who we are is that structure.

There were times this weekend when I thought to myself, damn, maybe I should be striving for a higher-paying job. Maybe I should be doing more.

Yet, I feel deep in my soul, that my purpose right now is to experience. I want to learn; I want to grow; I strive to continue chiseling away at the essence of my being.

Writing helps build that structure, just as it did for McConaughey.

I write to understand myself. I write to let go of my mistakes and keep stepping forward. I write to laugh at the times I’ve made a fool of myself, because we all do. I learned that this weekend.

Yet, I don’t question who I am, and I’m proud of that. I feel learning about who we truly are is the real work.

We must in serious thought to create a foundation of morals — a line in the sand which states who we are on one side, and what we aren’t on the other. I write to create those boundaries and understand them.

When we have a baseline of who we are, the freedom of exploring becomes the fun part of truly living. Blowing in the wind with stable weather to always return makes life the gift that it is.

I’m open to advice. We have to be to get down to the core of who we are.

We learn what we aren’t, and we learn what we love. That, only we know because we feel something indescribable in our hearts. I question what I’m doing just as much as anybody else. Yet, I know there’s an integral part of me that will never wane.

Through trials, through learning, through getting up out of the dirt with a smile on my face, that piece of me gets stronger.

At times I feel lost; that’s part of the art of livin. Maybe feeling lost is the green light that we need. By being lost, we devote ourselves to finding our way. And that green light says keep going and giving your best, and you’ll make it.

Keep throwing mud against the wall to see what sticks, because, with a structure, an essence, a moral code for living the good life, we’re never truly lost. That’s what this stage is really about. The rest will follow. It always does.

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My name is Vincent Van Patten. This is my home, a place to share who I am and what lights my soul on fire. I’m a writer, media creator, and co-host of The Dare to Dream Podcast. Most importantly, I’m an inspired citizen of our ever-changing world. I strive to learn all that I can about how we’ve progressed to where we are today as individual cultures and as a planet. It’s my passion to fill every day with exploration and creativity no matter where I am, whether in California crafting my latest project or on my way to discover someplace new. By writing about my experiences, connecting with people and the earth, and remaining present, I always feel at home. I write to express my perspective of daily living, from the thoughts in my head to the relationships we share as human beings. I write about travel, culture, books, life, philosophy, spirituality, health, self-improvement, and history. I also write poetry and short stories  —  doing so soothes the soul. I believe we’re here to challenge ourselves by questioning all we think we know. When we do, we open our minds to a way of living we could never have imagined. This life is a journey with no finish line in sight. I hope to leave a positive impact with every step I take.

Del Mar, CA
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