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ATD Blog

Optimism Is Survival


Mon May 20 2024

Optimism Is Survival

Matthew McConaughey addresses attendees in ATD24’s opening session.

About 15 minutes into his keynote Q&A on Monday (facilitated by award-winning speaker, author, and leadership expert Holly Ransom), Matthew McConaughey spoke about his famous “alright, alright, alright” line from the 1993 movie Dazed and Confused—and how the phrase represents optimism. McConaughey’s opening keynote was sponsored by MasterClass at Work.

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“‘Alright, alright, alright’ is basically three affirmations of the three things that character that I was playing had in that scene,” he explained to the rapt crowd. “I think optimism is survival. And that’s a part of that affirmation even if you’re not getting what you want; it’s about belief.”

For McConaughey, the secret of survival is managing disappointment.

He took time to detail how he’s done that over a career that has spanned more than three decades, including a year and a half in the mid-1990s when his career wasn’t going his way. McConaughey relayed a story during that rough patch when he decided he wasn’t getting roles because he was too prepared.

“I got this bright idea where I was like, ‘You know what? It’s because now, Matthew, you know too much about acting, and you’re doing too much preparation,’” he revealed. “So, let’s go back to how we got started in Dazed and Confused where I showed up one night and just improvised, and three lines turned into three weeks’ work.”

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Thereafter, McConaughey decided not to read scripts before auditions, instead opting to know only who his character was and what conflict he was facing before starting a scene. That idea ended, however, when he went to read for a four-page monologue in Spanish.

“I drove home that day from work, and I remember pulling over on the side of the road, beating the hell out of the steering wheel. Crying. Tears of pain. I felt so damn embarrassed,” he said. “I made a truce with myself on that day. Never again. Never again do I want to have that feeling that I had of that embarrassment because I did not prepare.”

Since then, he’s kept his word, throwing himself into his characters (he says he accepts a role when it scares him “in the right way”), including losing 47 pounds to play Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club.

“When I go to work, I want to have enough meat on the proverbial bone with the character that I feel like I can be obsessed with that character, and that will be enough to fill my day for four to five months,” McConaughey stated. “Any time I start to feel complacent, that’s my problem.”

McConaughey noted that using those characters to tell good stories also comes with good leadership. After joking that he tells directors not to tell him what to do, he spoke about leadership and how the best leaders give ownership of ideas.

“What is each individual team member’s innate ability that they have and that they’re willing to work for on the project?” he asked. “Let’s define and let’s give validity to every role and let people work where they can learn, but also use their innate instincts for what they have competence to do well.”

Brain Tattoos

Before McConaughey came to the stage, attendees were treated to Dear World founder Robert X. Fogarty, who spoke about the Brain Tattoo method. It involves individuals writing something important to them on their skin and photographing it. Fogarty began the project in New Orleans, Louisiana, asking people what they loved about the city post-Hurricane Katrina.

Fogarty led attendees through an exercise in which they each chose three words that meant something to them, then picked one of those words and wrote down three core memories related to that word. Fogarty then gave everyone in the audience six minutes to discuss those memories with one or two other attendees.

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Attendees can make their own Brain Tattoo with Dear World throughout the conference in the ATD Theater and at Networking Night at Mardi Gras World on Tuesday from 7 to 10 p.m.

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