Matthew McConaughey Motivational Speech

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

In January 2016, Matthew McConaughey gave a motivational speech to the graduates at the University of Houston. It is considered one of the best motivational speeches.


This speech is to be used in conjunction with the Free 5 day Public Speaking Challenge.


The Speech

Short and sweet or long and salty? A sugar donut or some oatmeal? Out of respect for you and your efforts in getting your degree, I thought long and hard about what I could share with you tonight. Did I want to stand at a podium and read you your rights? Did I want to come up here and just share some really funny stories? I thought about what you would WANT. I thought about what you might NEED. I also thought about what I WANT to say. What I NEED to say… Hopefully, we’ll both be happy on both accounts… And as the saying goes, take what you like, leave the rest. Thank you for having me.

So, before I share with you some “what I do knows,” let’s talk about a “what I don’t know.”

I have 2 older brothers.


One was in high school in the early 1970s — a time when a high school GED got you a job and college degree was exemplary.


My other brother was in HS in the early 1980s, and by this time the GED wasn’t enough to guarantee employment, you needed a college degree, and if you got one, you had a pretty good chance of getting the kind of job you wanted after you graduated.


Me, I graduated HS in 1988, got my college degree in ’93. That college degree? Didn’t mean as much. No ticket, no voucher, no free pass go to anything.


So, what does your college degree mean? It means you got an education, means you have more knowledge in a specific subject, vocation, means you may have more expertise in “what your degree” is in.

But what is it worth? In the job market? Today?


We know the market for college graduates is more competitive now than ever. And some of you already have a job lined up, a path where today’s job can become tomorrow’s career, but for most of you, the future’s probably still pretty fuzzy — you don’t have that job that directly reflects the degree you just got, and many of you don’t even have a job at all. You’ve just completed your scholastic educational curriculum in life — the one you started when you were 5 years old up until now… and your future, your “days to come,” may be no more clear than it was 5 years ago — you don’t have all the answers — and it’s scary.


And that’s OK, because hey, that’s how it is, this is the reality you face — the world we live in…And while I’m not here to discourage you or in any way belittle your accomplishments of which we celebrate tonight…I am here to talk brass tacks, to skip the flattery and the “attaboys” because I DO know this.


The sooner we become LESS IMPRESSED — with our life, our accomplishments, our career, the prospect in front of us. As soon as we become LESS IMPRESSED — and MORE INVOLVED with these things, the sooner we get a whole lot better at doing them.

So, I’m going to talk to you about some things I’ve learned along my journey — most from experience, some I heard in passing, many I’m still practicing, but ALL of them, true.

Yes, they may be truths to me, but don’t think that that makes them MINE… because you can’t own a truth. Think of these as signposts, approaches, paradigms, that give some science to satisfaction. They are yours to steal, to share, to liken to your own lives, and to personally apply in your OWN lives, in your own way, should you choose to.


1. Life is not easy…

NUMBER 1, LIFE’S NOT EASY…don’t try and make it that way. It’s not fair, it never was, it isn’t now, it won’t ever be. Do not fall into the entitlement trap of feeling you are a victim, you are not. Get over it and get on with it. And yes, most things are more rewarding when you break a sweat to get them.


2. “Unbelievable” is the stupidest word in the dictionary

It shouldn’t ever come out of our mouths. To say, “What an unbelievable play!” It was an unbelievable book, film, act of courage…really?


It may be spectacular, phenomenal, most excellent and outstanding… but unbelievable? NO. Give others and yourself more credit. It just happened, you witnessed it, you just did it, believe it.


How about the other side of unbelievable? When we humans “under perform” or act OUT of character? — “man flies a suicide jet into the World Trade Center, millions die from diseases that we have cures for, Bob the builder swears he’ll have your house built by Thanksgiving and you can’t move in ’til Christmas, THE NEXT YEAR…” Our best friend lies to us, and WE, lie to our self, all the time…unbelievable? I don’t think so.. Again, it just happened, and it happens everyday …


NOTHING we homosapien earthlings do is unbelievable — one thing you can depend on people being…is people. So we shouldn’t be surprised, we are the trickiest mammal walking the planet!! (It ain’t the monkeys I’m worried about, it’s you and me.)

Acknowledge acts of greatness as real, and do NOT be naive about mankind’s capacity for evil nor be in denial of our own shortcomings.

NOTHING we do is unbelievable. Stupid word. Un-be-lievably stupid word.


3. Happiness is different than Joy

“I just want to be happy.” I hear that all the time. But what IS happiness? Happiness is an emotional response to an outcome — If I win I will be happy, if I don’t I won’t. An if-then, cause and effect, quid pro quo standard that we cannot sustain because we immediately raise it every time we attain it. You see, happiness demands a certain outcome, it is result reliant.


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. It’s not a choice, not a response to some result, it is a constant. Joy is “the feeling we have from doing what we are fashioned to do,” no matter the outcome.


Personally, as an actor, I started enjoying my work and literally being happier when I stopped trying to make the daily labor a means to a certain end — I need this film to be a box office success, I need my performance to be acknowledged, I need the respect of my peers.

All reasonable aspirations but truth is, as soon as the WORK, the MAKING of the movie, the DOING of the deed became the reward in itself — I got more box-office, more accolades and respect than I’d ever had before. See, JOY is always in process, under construction — it’s in the constant approach, alive and well —in the DOING of what we are fashioned to do… and enJOYing doing it.


4. Define Success For Yourself

I went to a voodoo shop south of New Orleans a few years back — they had vials of “magic” potions stacked in columns with headings above each defining what they would give you — Fertility, Health, Family, Legal Help, Energy, Forgiveness, Money.

Guess which column was empty? Money. Let’s admit it, “money” is king today, makes the world go round. Money is SUCCESS, the more we have, the more “successful” we are, right?


I’d argue that our cultural values have even been financialized — humility is not in vogue anymore, it’s too passive. It’s a get rich quick on the internet, 15 minutes of fame world we live in. See it every day.


But, we all want to succeed right? Question we have to ask ourselves is, what success is to us, what success is to YOU. More money? OK, I got nothing against money. But maybe it’s a healthy family? A happy marriage? To help others? To be famous? To be spiritually sound? To leave the world a little bit better place than you found it?


Continue to ask yourself that question. Your answer may change over time and that’s fine, but do yourself this favor:

WHATEVER your answer is, DON’T CHOOSE ANYTHING THAT WILL JEOPARDIZE YOUR SOUL. PRIORITIZE WHO YOU ARE, WHO YOU WANT TO BE, AND DON’T SPEND TIME WITH ANYTHING THAT ANTAGONIZES YOUR CHARACTER. DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID!! It tastes sweet today but it will give you cavities tomorrow. Life is not a popularity contest. Be brave, take the hill but first, answer the question, “What is my hill?”


How do I define success? For me, it’s a measurement of five things — fatherhood, being a good husband, health, career, friendships. These are what’s important to me in my life.

So, I try to measure these five each day, check in with them, see whether or not I’m in the debit or the credit section with each one. Am I in the red or in the black with each of them?

For instance, sometimes my career is rolling (in the black) but I see how my relationship with my wife could use a little more attention. I gotta pick up the slack on being a better husband, get that one out of the red. Or say my spiritual health could use some maintenance (red) but hey, my friendships and social life are in high gear (black)… I gotta recalibrate, checks and balances, go to church, remember to say thank you more often. I gotta take the tally. Because I want to keep ALL 5 in healthy shape, and I know that if I DON’T take care of them, if I don’t keep up maintenance on them, ONE of them is going to get weak, dip too deep into the debit section, go bankrupt, get sick… die even.

So first, we have to DEFINE success for ourselves, then we have to put in the work to MAINTAIN it — take our daily tally, tend our garden, keep the things that are important to us in good shape.


Let’s admit it, we all got two wolves in us, a good one and a bad one, you know what I’m talking about — and they BOTH wanna eat… We just gotta feed that good wolf a little more than the other one.


5. Process of elimination is the first step to our identity (a.k.a where you are NOT is as important as where you are)

In 1992, I got my first job as an actor. Three lines, three days work, in a film called Dazed and Confused. Alright.


Alright, Alright, Alright.

The director, Richard Linklater, kept inviting me back to set each night, putting me in more scenes which led to more lines all of which I happily said YES to. I was having a blast. People said I was good at it, they were writing me a check for $325 a day. I mean hell yeah, give me more scenes, I love this!! And by the end of the shoot those 3 lines had turned into over 3 weeks work and “it was Wooderson’s ’70 Chevelle we went to get Aerosmith tickets in.” Bad ass.


Well, a few years ago I was watching the film again and I noticed two scenes that I really shouldn’t have been in. In one of the scenes, I exited screen left to head somewhere, then re-entered the screen to “double check” if any of the other characters wanted to go with me.


Now, in rewatching the film, (and you’ll agree if you know Wooderson), he was not a guy who would ever say, “later,” and then COME BACK to “see if you were sure you didn’t wanna come with him..” No, when Wooderson leaves, Wooderson’s gone, he doesn’t stutter step, flinch, rewind, ask twice, or solicit, right? He just “likes those high school girls cus he gets older and they stay the same age.”


My point is, I should NOT have been in THAT scene, I should have exited screen left and never come back.


But back then, making my first film, getting invited back to set, cashing that check and having a ball, I WANTED more screen time, I WANTED to be in the scene longer and more, and come back into the scene right?


I shouldn’t have been there. Wooderson shouldn’t have been there.

It’s just as important where we are not as it is where we are.


The first step that leads to our identity in life is usually NOT “I know who I am,” but rather “I know who I AM NOT.” Process of elimination.


Defining ourselves by what we are NOT is the first step that leads us to really KNOWING WHO WE ARE.


You know that group of friends you hang out with that really don’t bring out your best? They gossip too much, or they’re kind of shady, and they really aren’t gonna be there for you