Matthew McConaughey, JUST BECAUSE

Matthew McConaughey, JUST BECAUSE

Zibby interviews Academy Award-winning actor and #1 New York Times bestselling author Matthew McConaughey about his soulful, humorous, and irreverent debut picture book, Just Because. Matthew shares the inspiration behind this book (he dreamed it!) and the lessons it imparts about leadership, courage, and trying new things. He also shares some anecdotes from his memoir Greenlights, his thoughts on philanthropy, the topic of his next book, and his best advice for aspiring authors.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Matthew. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Just Because.

Matthew McConaughey: Good to be here with you, Zibby.

Zibby: Thank you. A children’s book, because you hadn’t accomplished enough other things. Why write a children’s book at this point?

Matthew: I’ve got three children of my own, so I’m sure that’s part of it. My children are now ten, thirteen, and fifteen. As a parent, with children, you see them having first-time experiences all the time. It’s the first time every time, I don’t know for how many years, but it still is for them in different ways. I see pressures they’re under. I see pressure they put themselves on. I see pressure their peers put on them. I see confusion. I see them battling with their own feelings and trying to feel like they need to be clear about feeling one way about something. This book is a little bit about tolerating that we have contradictory thoughts. We can have dueling feelings at the same time. We can feel one way about the same situation today and feel differently about it tomorrow. That’s okay. That’s all right. That doesn’t mean you don’t know who you are. That means, especially in this time as a youngster, that’s how you’re figuring out who you are. Then you start to measure the consequences and make a choice because you start to know there’s an exchange here. If I choose this — I’m going through it with my eldest right now. He’s got three things going on that are very important to him. All of a sudden, for the first time, he’s wishing he had more than twenty-four hours in his day. I’m going, they aren’t giving any more. I know. You’re going to have make sacrifices and have to go, yeah, but if I commit to that, that means I’ll be able to do less this. I know.

Their feeling is, this is a lifetime decision. I’m trying to say, and also with the book, no, it’s not a lifetime decision. My daughter was taking up this sport. She’s like, are you telling me I need to be a pro? No, you don’t have to be a pro. Don’t put that pressure on yourself. Just go play it. Give maximum effort. Have as good a time as you can. If you don’t want to do it again next semester, we’ll find another sport. You don’t have to be a pro. Don’t put that pressure on yourself. This book allows a proper leniency for children to understand they can have on themselves and hopefully has a conversation between parents and kids about that proper leniency as well as what responsibilities you can take. You don’t find your personal style or know what you’re about until you go through the liberal arts of life. That’s what liberal arts in college are about. It’s the furniture in the living room. It’s trying a little bit of this and understanding all of the furniture and how it works. That’s part of what young people need to do even earlier than college. Understand there’s a lot of different furniture in your own living room. Try them all out. Now is the time.

Zibby: Although, perhaps you wouldn’t recommend they go to Australia and stay with the Dooley’s. I don’t know. Just guessing.

Matthew: I would recommend that. I would not be here talking to you if I didn’t have that year in Australia.

Zibby: That sounded rough, but very funny.

Matthew: It was.

Zibby: There were a few lines in Just Because that I particularly liked. One is, “Just because you follow doesn’t mean you’re not a leader.” I love that. How has that played out in your life? When’s a time you followed?

Matthew: That came to me when I was in that walkabout in Peru in 1999. I had in my mind at that time that a leader was always in front. Obviously, over there particularly, I had a guide who knew the land and knew the pitfalls and knew what was poisonous and what was not. I sure as heck followed him. It hit me. I was like, well, you’re not in front. How are you being more of a leader? To be in front and not know where you’re going or to be behind an expert who does? You’re being much more a leader to be in a second line. Who do we follow? It takes pressure off thinking, I’ve always got to be in front. I’ve always got to be first. No, sometimes great leadership and doing the best for yourself and being the best leader for yourself and others is following the right person who knows how to navigate or is leading the right way, a prosperous way for you and others. It was just a click in my mind. There’s places where I let my kids lead today. There’s certain Saturdays where I’ll go, no plan, Matthew. Let’s go just do. Forget logic. Let’s just go do what they want to do. Let’s just follow. Let them lead without going, hey, we only have until so o’clock. Why do you want to do that? No, let’s just do it. Sometimes those days, they’re fancy. It’s filled with whatever is in their eyeline. It’s little one-offs. That’s okay. Sometimes it’s a project that we actually build. At the end of the day, we’ve built something that wasn’t there in the beginning. I’m just following on those days. I think that’s me being a better father on that day, which is being a better leader for me on that day to them.

Zibby: I think there’s a fine line between that kind of day and a yes day, which is what I feel like my kids are asking me for often.

Matthew: They’ll stretch that old yes day, won’t they?

Zibby: Yes.

Matthew: They start to stretch it. Then I have to bring up that great term that I heard from a friend of mine. Before we get into full yes day, let’s talk about appropriate expectations. That yes day, oh, but you said it’d be yes. Yeah, but that’s a very inappropriate expectation. There has to be a bit of a seal.

Zibby: I said it can’t go on forever after the day. It has to be confined to the day. Still didn’t really work. Another one, “Just because you got the gold doesn’t mean that you won.” Love that. Tell me about that one. How have you won?

Matthew: Who wins the gold in today’s world? What’s success? Money and fame. Is that really the gold medal that we should all be pursuing? I don’t think so. There’s certain gold medals we give out for things that I’m like — you got to ask yourself. You want to be the best? You want to be number one? You want to be the most popular? You want to be relevant? Ask yourself, for what? before you just go, I want to be first. If you’re out there getting blue ribbons in everything, there’s a lot of things that we give gold medals for that are not the gold medals for us and, in my opinion, shouldn’t even be gold medals at all. There’s a lot of games out there you don’t want to win. There’s a lot of scams and cons and ladders that we’re being told and carrots that are being dangled to go, hey, . No, you don’t want to. You don’t want to be the first. You don’t want to be the best at that. You don’t want to be most popular at that. You don’t want to be most relevant for that. Just because you got the gold does not mean you won. There’s plenty of gold medals out there that I think all of us can say, and we can share with our children, you don’t want to win that one.

Zibby: I feel like this is similar to your red sports car story in Greenlights where you finally get the shiny car, and you realize that you missed the adventure of the truck all along.

Matthew: Yes, that was my gold medal. Yes, I did it. I won. Okay, so where am I? Oh, geez. No one’s really interested in me. Girls aren’t interested. My friends aren’t interested. I’m less social. I’m resting on my laurels leaning against my gold medal going, hey, look at my gold medal. Look at my gold medal. I quit playing the game. I got out of the race. I got rid of that damn medal, that car, got back in the race, got back in the game, back to myself.

Zibby: There you go. One thing I was really struck by in a lot of the stories through Greenlights is all the opportunities that presented themselves. You showed up. You were on time. You were at the place that we were supposed to be. You were willing to do anything to get there, whether it was mopping the bathroom floor in the nightclub to showing up at an audition, to being a hand model, to just all these things. There seemed to be nothing you weren’t willing to do to get to what the goal was that you wanted to do. Tell me a little bit more about that and how that served you well.

Matthew: I bring up another line in Greenlights. A lot of times, it’s not what choice you make. It’s just, make a damn choice, and commit to it. It’ll get you in the door. It’ll get you in the door of opportunity where maybe you’ll find the thing that is the gold medal you’re going after, and you can chase it. You wouldn’t have seen that opportunity unless you went and said, yeah, I’ll quit biting my nails if you tell me you’re going to pay me a little money if I’m a hand model. Okay. Yeah, I’ll go mop those floors. I’m not trying to be a professional mopper. This isn’t the job I came over here to talk to you about, but that’s what you need right now? Let’s go. What did it do? Ten minutes later, put that mop down. You want to wait tables? Yes, I do. Okay. He was testing me. Sometimes life throws these in front of us. It can be measured, like in that Homer Hill situation where he said, mop the floors. He was measuring me. It can be other times where I can make a little money off my hand if I quit biting my nails. Okay. Do I want to be a professional hand model? Not necessarily, but it’s in that world of something in front of the camera. I’ll be around an ad shoot, which is a world I want to be in. Then I get a PA job. Then I go in the right bar and meet the right guy and get cast in a movie. These things lead to places. A lot of times, success, I think we find ourself in it. It’s not necessarily that we wrote the headline and went after. A lot of times, it is. So many times, it’s like, no, just go take the opportunity. If it’s not going to discredit you or go against your character or take you into the debit section or you’re not going to get hurt by it, then try it out. Why? I don’t know. Just because. Try it. Find out. Even when you find out, nope, that’s not for me, that’s knowledge. That’s choice. That got rid of something down the line. It got rid of another variable that’s like, no, I’ve done that before. That’s not for me. How would you know unless you tried it?

Zibby: Very true. These are all very inspiring little snippets in the story. I’m sure there are so many more. I just wanted to touch briefly on your amazing philanthropy and the things that you’re doing to really help the world. I know there are so many celebrities and people of influence who adopt different things. I feel like you are, across the board, doing things that impact so many different types of people, so many different areas of life, whether it’s the plane you just got, which was so amazing, going to Maui; to the Greenlights Initiative, the Grant Initiative, which is so creative and interesting; Just Keep Livin; all these things. Tell me about your views on philanthropy. What are you trying to do? Even the private-public government partnerships, it’s so interesting. How do you think about your philanthropy in general?

Matthew: Prevention before cure. Create incentive. Restore and follow through. There’s so many very valuable places to give time, efforts, money to cure. Very valid. Need them. My lane that moves me and turns me on is, what about the tools to prevent before you need to cure? That’s why we went to young people in high school, Title 1 schools, with the Just Keep Livin Foundation. Restore, Maui fires, they need restoration. They need to survive right now. There’s going to be new plans about how they’re going to thrive. Right now, it’s basic. It’s called stabilize necessities, diapers, food, water, power. That’s as far as we need to think. We don’t need to be talking about yoga instructors. You know what I mean? We’re talking basic needs right now. The Greenlights Grant Initiative, that’s about follow-through. It’s about first bills passed in thirty years to help make schools safer. The money’s there. It’s there. Oh, it’s really hard, red tape, to get that money. Okay. Could we simplify that? This is not political because the government wants to spend that money, and the schools need it. Can we simplify the communication process, the application process, the best chance you can get awarded those grants process? Nothing sexy about it. It’s very utilitarian.

It is also, and something else I believe in is the private sector working with the public sector. If I’m a private citizen and I’m working with a public government, too many times, our leaders get in position or bills passed and we’re like, okay, phew, we did it. We turn our back, and we move on. We look back thirty, fifty years later, ten years later, and we go, what ever happened with that? Oh, it was never utilized. Oh, it was never spent. Oh, there was never any follow-through. In some ways, was that bill just symbolic? I want, hopefully, for it to be as least symbolic as possible. It was passed. Symbol. Great. Now let’s utilize. Let’s be constructive with it. Then hopefully, we could have measurements. Here’s how it worked. Here’s why let’s do it more and again. Let’s be affirmative. Let’s get it utilized to see first. For it not to be spent and for it to be reallocated in 2026 would be like, what were we doing? That one’s follow-through. An example that I think we need more of is private sector and public sector working together more instead of just saying, another government, my leader’s in a position that I want. I’m going to sit back down. No, now’s the time to get up. We got to go be soldiers in life in what we want to get done. On the other side, we don’t want the government just going, well, let the private sector handle it. Why don’t we work together more on that?

Zibby: Amazing. It’s really admirable what you’re doing. It’s really awesome. Going back to writing for a second, obviously, reading Greenlights — actually, I listened to it all. Listening to Greenlights, you talk about when you discovered your love of story, how it was identified, when you really wrote those fifteen-page letters and tapped into yourself, which became an entire memoir and now this children’s book. What does it feel like when you’re writing? Where do you write your best work? What are the ideal writing conditions for you? What does that look like?

Matthew: Ideal writing conditions are alone and four to seven in the morning and with nothing planned or no appointments on the backside. Meaning, if I’m going to write today and I have an appointment in three hours, mm-mm, because I know in my mind, in three hours, I need to stop. I have a curfew. No curfew. I can have no curfew. I don’t say that’s limitless. If I can go away for a week, if I can go away for two weeks and know, man, relax — I don’t care if it’s dark. I don’t care if it’s light. I don’t care if you have a drink. I don’t care if you don’t. I don’t care if you exercise. We’re going to sit right here. That’s when I’m writing. I do get up. Moving around, I’ll have ideas that I’ll come back and try and deconstruct them and fill them out and flush them out. Sometimes it’s one line. This book, Just Because, it was a ditty. It was a two thirty in the morning dream I had that was a Bob Dylan poem. I woke up with the beat. I was going, “Just because I forgive you, don’t mean that I still trust. There’s what you do, there’s what I do, and yours is not my must. Just because you’re wailing, don’t mean that you’re a crier, and just because you lied does not mean that you’re a liar.” I woke up, and the hook was there. I just started writing the couplets. I wrote for four hours and wrote about a hundred of them and went back and said, there’s about — whatever’s in the book — there’s about twenty-five or so that I think are really relatable, constructive, and helpful for young people and can become a great conversation between parents and their kids, and put them into what’s in the book, Just Because.

Zibby: All in a morning’s work. How about that?

Matthew: Sometimes musically, if I can find the rhythm, I find that with writing, even in Greenlights, if I can get the first line right, if I can get it, ooh, that’s it — it’s got the swing. It’s got the vibe. It’s got the sway. It’s got the rhythm. The rest of it will just write itself. The rest is easy. Sometimes I’d be up at four AM and not get the first line to a story written until three PM, but then I’d have the story written at seven PM because I got, oh, there it is. There it is. I hear it. Then once I get the rhythm, it sort of writes itself.

Zibby: Amazing. Do you read it out loud, or it’s just in your head?

Matthew: It’s just in my head. It goes down. I’m still learning. It’s hard sometimes to slow my mind down because my mind can go faster than my fingers. It’ll come in my head. I’ll write down a word that represents each sentence because I’ll have them, eight words under each other, a column. Then I’ll go back, and I’ll fill in where those words fit and how it connected to the — then I’ll have eight sentences. Then I’ll have a great paragraph.

Zibby: Interesting. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Matthew: Make sure it’s personal. Number one, it’s a lot more fun if it’s personal. It’s a lot harder, in a way, because you kind of have to look in the mirror and go, oh, geez. It can become embarrassing. The rules are there are no rules. When I say make sure it’s personal — look, when I first started writing Greenlights, I found myself, after the first ten days, with this little hunch of, I wanted to write impressive. I looked back at my writing. I was like, that’s an impressive sentence there, Matthew. Then I was like, that’s BS. You’re writing to impress. Then I was like, no, write what’s honest. Write it well. Maybe that will be impressive. If that’s impressive instead of writing impressively, there’s our place. When I got more personal, the other irony is this. The more personal you can be — it’s very much like the contradictions in Just Because. The more humanity, you’re speaking to everyone. It’s very important to me — I think it’s a clever way of thinking. When do you use first person, second person, or third person? If I’m writing “I, I, I –” Matthew, you’re saying write subjectively. Make it personal, so “I, I, I.” Great. I think that’s the place to start. Make it personal.

Then you look at it and you go, who cares about this? This is like my diary. How can someone apply this? You can look at the same stuff that’s in the first-person I and go, where do I use the you? It becomes like, oh, I’m sharing things I learned. You got to watch you because people take it as advice, and no one likes to be told what to do. Then to get to the beautiful spot, which is my favorite, to go between the I and the third person, the royal we. From the I and the we is my favorite place to write from. You got to watch all we. If you go all we, you’re speaking in platitudes. People are going, who the hell do you think you are speaking for everybody? If you got enough I, personal, in there, no one can judge that. You can judge it, but no one can condemn you for that. It’s your experience. If you got too much we in there, it’s like, really? So your words are the commandment? No. It’s the mixing of the I, the you, and the we. I think you have to watch it. Too much you, people back off and go, quit telling me what to do. Too much I, it’s like, well, I can’t see myself in your story, man. Come on. Too much we, that’s not personal at all. Who are you talking to? You’re kind of talking about humanity in general. Play with those, the use of those three persons.

Zibby: Amazing. More books coming after this? Are you writing another memoir?

Matthew: Yes. Right now, I’m really excited about going around and sharing Just Because. I have a couple of other similar things that I think would be good children’s books. I’m working on another, a follow-up to — I don’t know if it’s necessarily a follow-up to Greenlights, but it’s in the same vein of, how do we constructively move forward personally and collectively?

Zibby: Any secrets — then I’ll let you go. Any secrets for confronting the blank page if you don’t have a song in mind, or a rhythm, that’s ready?

Matthew: Sometimes you do have to endure it. Sometimes you do have to just sit there and go, I got nothing. I’m stuck. When I get stuck like that, I try to change my state of mind. Meaning, I’ll write differently about the — we all, I think, will write differently about the same subject or have a different look at it in a different state of mind. Meaning, when your endorphins are going right after you’ve exercised, when you’ve just come home from church, when you have had a few drinks, when you’re tired. Sometimes that being tired is really nice because your mind’s not too acute yet. You’re kind of thinking in baselines. It’s kind of low-hanging fruit stuff. It’s a baseline. Write those down too. Then come back to the same subject. Do a 360. Go change your state of mind and where your endorphins are, where your energy is, where your soul is. Come back and have a look at it. Then again, the no rules thing. Sometimes it’s just about getting that first sentence. Just get something down. If you can get that first one, it can lead to the second. All of a sudden, you can get in a flow. That’s what’s fun about writing. There’s no rules. My great mentor, Penny Allen, always said this to me about acting and writing. She was like, “Try and screw it up. I dare you.” Give yourself that leniency, that freedom. Try and screw it up. Dare you. It’s fun. All you can do is go back and either edit it or — go long. Go edit later if you want to, but go long. Don’t edit while you’re writing. Go long. Then come back and go, yeah, I got that point. Those two paragraphs say a similar thing in different ways. Do I amalgamize the two, or do I use one because it really gets the point across?

Zibby: Amazing. First time I’ve heard the world amalgamize today, so there’s that. On passport forms, what do you put? Actor? Do you put author? Do you put storyteller? What do you put down?

Matthew: On a passport?

Zibby: Yep.

Matthew: I had my passport right here just a minute ago.

Zibby: On those forms when you travel. Occupation…

Matthew: I think storyteller’s on there. Yeah, I usually fill out storyteller.

Zibby: Love it. So fun. Just Because is just awesome. Thank you so much for coming on. This was really fun. I loved Greenlights and this book and all of it. I’m a big fan. Congratulations, and especially on your philanthropy.

Matthew: Thank you. Thanks for the time. Thanks for letting me share stories. Hope you and others enjoy the book.

Zibby: Anytime. Take care.

Matthew: Ciao.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

JUST BECAUSE by Matthew McConaughey

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