Matthew McConaughey Shares 13 Life Lessons During University of Houston Commencement Address

Matthew McConaughey
AP Images/Invision

The Oscar-winning actor delivered the commencement address at the University of Houston graduation ceremony.

Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey shared his own personal experiences with University of Houston graduates when he delivered the school's commencement speech on Friday evening. 

The Dallas Buyers Club star spoke in the university's new football stadium — where his father, "Big Jim" McConaughey, once played for the college's football team — and delivered 13 pieces of wisdom for the new graduates based on what he learned from his own experiences. Read about his key points below. 

1. Life is not easy

"Do not fall into the entitlement trap of feeling like a victim," said McConaughey. "You are not. Get over it and get on with it. Yes, most things are more rewarding when you break a sweat to get them."

2. "Unbelievable" is the stupidest word in the dictionary

The actor stated that the word "unbelievable" should never come out of anybody's mouth, and people should give each other more credit when it's due. He also added it's not "unbelievable" when people perform out-of-character actions, such as missing a deadline. "If there's one thing you can depend on people being, it's people," said McConaughey. "I think 'unbelievable' is an unbelievably stupid word."

3. Happiness is different than joy 

The actor noted that once he started acting in films that brought him joy rather than happiness, he started receiving more success. "As soon as the work, the daily making of the movie, the doing of the deed, became the reward in itself for me," he said, "I got more box office, more accolades, more respect than I ever had before.

4. Define success for yourself 

McConaughey says he defines himself by five things: fatherhood, being a good husband, health, career and friendships. "I want to keep all five in healthy shape," he said. "If I don't keep maintenance on them, one of them is going to get weak.

5. Process of elimination is the first step to our identity

"Alright, alright alright," said McConaughey as he recalled the three lines he was first hired to say on Dazed and Confused. The actor noted that while starting with those three lines turned into a larger role for his character in the film, there were two scenes that his character, Bill Wooderson, shouldn't have been in. "Back then, making my first film, I wanted more screen time. I wanted to be in the scene longer, but I shouldn't have been there. Wooderson shouldn't have been there," said McConaughey.

6. "Don't leave crumbs" — and the beauty of delayed gratification

"If I do my job well today and that movie keeps re-running on TV, five years from now I'm getting checks in the mailbox," he said. "It's a heck of a deal. Get some return on investment."

7. Dissect your successes (and the reciprocity of gratitude)

The actor noted that he's spent a lot of time reading the bad reviews of his films that are written by respected critics. "I don’t obsess on the unfavorable aspect of their review, but I do seek what I can learn from it. Their displeasure actually uncovers and makes more apparent what I do do well."

8. Make voluntary obligations

The actor insists on making personal protocols with yourself that may not apply to everyone else. "While no one throws you a party while you abide by them, nobody is going to arrest you when you break them, either."

9. From "can" to "want"

The actor emphasized that having access to different things doesn't mean you necessarily need them. He recalled a lesson he learned when he received his first paycheck, in 1995, for being in Boys on the Side, and started living the good life with an adobe house complete with his first maid. After he told a friend that he had a maid that was pressing his jeans, he realized that he never really liked the look of ironed jeans in the first place. "I never had my jeans pressed again," said McConaughey. 

10. A roof is a man-made thing

The actor noted that he, like everyone else, has choked up or felt tense due to expectations. "We have created a fictitious ceiling, a roof to our expectations of ourselves," he said. "We shouldn't create these restrictions on ourselves"

11. Turn the page

"If we're going to make a mistake, we've got to own them, make amends and you've got to move on," said McConaughey. 

12. Give your obstacles credit 

The actor admitted that he tries to scare himself at least once a day. "I get butterflies every time before I go to work," he said. "I was nervous before I got here to speak tonight."

13. How do we know when we cross the truth?

The actor noted that after rising to fame in 1996, following his star turn in A Time to Kill, he began questioning the truth in his celebrity. On a 21-day "fasting" trip to Peru, he noted it took him 13 "hellish" days to purge in order to feel relaxed. "I was sick of myself," he said. "Wrestling with the loss of my anonymity, I was guilt-ridden for the sins of my past." On the morning of his thirteenth day in Peru, he admitted he finally woke up at one with himself. This was confirmed when he went on a morning walk and was greeted by a mirage of butterflies. "For the first time, I stopped thinking about what was coming up next, and my anxieties were at a crazy ease," he said. 

The university paid McConaughey $135,000 for lending his words of wisdom. According to a statement released by the university, McConaughey and his wife, Camila Alves, plan to donate the money to their foundation, Just Keep Livin,' which places fitness and wellness programs in public schools throughout the nation.

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