Matthew McConaughey and the Art of Reinventing Yourself

UPDATED: May 24, 2023
PUBLISHED: February 13, 2014

After decades of headlining chick flicks, Matthew McConaughey is a Best Actor Oscar nominee this year for the gritty biographical drama Dallas Buyers Club. He is up for one of the highest honors in Hollywood because he knew it was time for a change. A few years ago he decided to start over and, as he said, “un-brand himself”.

Earlier this week on CBS Sunday Morning, he described how he turned away from his “fastball”, the safe romantic comedies he’s done well so many times, and took a step back to relook at everything.

“I was going fine in my career. I was enjoying my career,” McConaughey said. “But, my life started to feel more exciting than my career did… I said, I’m gonna have to stop doing what I’ve been doing.”

He started taking on roles that were a stretch for him or as he described it that “shook his floor”.  Success can keep us from trying something new and putting ourselves out there. Why change?

In my upcoming book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life, I interviewed Charley Johnson, president of the Pay it Forward Foundation. Charley shared his view on the importance of curiosity and learning even when you are doing well. He said, “Those crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. To have enough humility, but also that ego to believe you can do it. To be almost a walking contradiction. To just be unbelievably curious, to read so many different books, and listen to so many different opinions. To want to be taught something. To want to sit down with people smarter than you and that think differently than you and truly listen. I didn’t do that in my last business. Things were going too well.” Yet, it set in motion his decision to devote his career to Pay it Forward and leave his old career behind.

Both Matthew and Charley decided to un-brand and change their course not because of failure or disappointment, but in the midst of great success. Yet, they had their own personal definition of success that created a turning point.

In writing my first book or in my business, I can get caught up in the end result that I hope will happen. ‘I hope my book does well!’ or ‘If we do great work, then the client will want us to create next year’s program’.  But, those results aren’t in our control. We control what we do each day – our decisions, actions and attitude.

Of course we need goals and a strategy, but the best coaches often talk about doing the right things, following a disciplined process and the results will come.

Nick Saban, Head Coach of the University of Alabama football team, said that they have a process that creates excellence. On 60 Minutes, they explained that Saban’s players have faith in their coach largely because of a revolutionary approach he designed years ago called The Process. “Ignore the scoreboard,” Saban preached to his players. “Don’t worry about winning, just focus on doing your job at the highest level, every single play, and the wins will follow.”

Clint Hurdle, a Wave Maker in my book, and the Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the National League Manager of the Year shared his view on results. He said, “You never start by talking about the results you want on the field. It’s about how the players talk and think. They need to take ownership of the game and of the team. When that happens, the results will take care of themselves.”

Some questions to consider:

–          How is success helping you and limiting you?

–          Is your current path taking you where you want to go? What changes are needed?

–          What is your “process” for doing what matters most?

–          What type of “un-branding” do you need in your reputation, career or work?

–          Where and how do you need to stretch and learn – even if it feels like a step back?

If you are due for a career reinvention, it is time to start learning, stretching and in McConaughey’s words, ‘shaking your floor’. But, rather than thinking about success and outcomes, it will take some faith, patience, and getting uncomfortable.

As McConaughey said, “I haven’t been thinking about results for some time and, now, results are coming my way.” 

How will you ‘shake your floor’ this year?

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Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at