Capital Investment Advisors

#159 – 12 Lessons For Investors From Matthew McConaughey’s 2015 Graduation Speech

A-list actor Matthew McConaughey is not only a beloved American talent, but an excellent speaker. His 2015 speech to University of Houston graduates is a prime and popular example, and one that Wes Moss found especially inspiring. While McConaughey’s speech was targeted to fresh graduates starting their life and career journeys, Wes found much of the advice applicable to prepping for an early retirement, planning for your financial future, and being a better investor. So, in today’s episode of Retire Sooner, Wes outlines the twelve insights he gleaned from this famous speech and how they can apply to your own financial life.

Read The Full Transcript From This Episode

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    • Wes Moss [00:00:00]:I’m Wes Moss. The prevailing thought in America is that you’ll never have enough money and it’s almost impossible to retire early. Actually, I think the opposite is true. For more than 20 years, I’ve been researching, studying, and advising American families, including those who started late, on how to retire sooner and happier. So my mission with the Retire Sooner podcast is to help a million people retire earlier while enjoying the adventure along the way. I’d love for you to be one of them. Let’s get started.It’s graduation season, and I was lucky enough to have one of my fifth graders actually graduate from elementary school. Wait a minute. That’s not a real graduation. It’s actually what my son said to me the morning we left here on a beautiful spring morning. He goes, “Dad, I am going to take my fifth grade graduation and hang it on my wall, and it’s going to be the first thing I put on my resume when I apply to college.” Thinking that this is no big deal. I can’t believe we’re really doing this. The parents don’t really want to go, but it was really kind of sweet, and it was nice. And it was a nice recognition of six years in the same school, kindergarten all the way through fifth and about 100 kids or so. And I realized that even though I think I was counting on stage, I’ve coached almost two dozen of the kids in that class. There’s a lot of kids. I had heard their name over the years but still didn’t know. So you get to see them and they graduate, and it was fun. The names were full names. So John McClellan, Stapleton, Miller and Chloe Cecilia. Elizabeth Lofton. And then we get to my son. It was Jake Moss. And Lynn looked at me and goes, “Oh, I didn’t really think that this is for the graduation name. I didn’t put down a middle name or anything, but we’ll do better.” When my first grader maybe graduates from fifth grade, because it’s graduation season, I get to talk about one of my favorite things in the world, and that is graduation commencement speeches because there are so many good ones. Now, in fairness, I have no recollection of my own graduation speech that I was supposedly listened to in the late 90s from the University of North Carolina. I remember the graduation, but I don’t remember the speaker. I don’t remember what they talked about. I tried to look it up on the Internet, but it was so long ago, there’s no record of it. So maybe that’s why I’ve always been on the search for graduation speeches. And there’s a really famous one.If you spent any more than a few minutes on YouTube, you’ve probably seen a couple things pop up. One is the Marine who I think is giving a graduation speech, and he talks about how making your bed will make your life better. That’s been watched 37 million times. Have you been on YouTube? You’ve probably seen that. But another one that pops up every so often is the Matthew McConaughey graduation speech back in 2015 for the University of Houston. Now, he’s a big University of Texas at Austin, longhorn, big fan, but I think his dad went to Houston, so he agreed to speak to the graduating class. Now, you know McConaughey, who may be one of the coolest guys ever made. Remember, he’s so good that Salesforce, the Dow listed company, paid him something like $10 million to do their commercials or be their spokesperson. He’s also the “all right, all right, all right” guy from Dazed & Confused, Time to Kill, True Detective. You know McConaughey, the dude with the really cool hair that’s in the Buick commercials. But he also wrote a book called Green Lights, which is also very good. And he’s a good writer. So he’s not just a great actor, but he’s a good writer. And of course, this is one of these guys that seems to be good at everything. He’s a great speaker, and he gave a wonderful speech for this graduation class. And even though I love graduation speeches, they’re not necessarily that easy to find good ones because there are a lot of platitudes, there’s a lot of the same ten keys to life. But what I like about McConaughey is, and by the way, at the end of the speech, he says, share this speech, use this speech, modify this speech, forward this speech, use it as your own, and teach others. And for some reason, I took that to heart, maybe because it was so good. And I’m going to go through about a dozen of these here today. But we’re not just going to do the life advice for graduates. But I will read you the life lesson from McConaughey’s speech. But I can’t help to see it through the lens of retiring sooner, investing, making better, smarter choices with how we’re preparing to retire or retire sooner, all in relation to those fresh faces thinking about joining the real world, the working world. And if I think back to my graduation in the those graduation today, the uncertainty is as great as it’s ever been. Where are we going to go work? How are we going to find our place in the world? How are we going to make a living? I couldn’t help to think when I was at my fifth grader’s graduation to go to middle school. By the time he’s out of high school or out of college, what will artificial intelligence, generative AI have done to the workforce, the economy, the labor force, the job opportunities we have in America? I don’t know. I think in general, artificial intelligence will be revolutionary for efficiency in our economy, and I see that as a great thing for profits of companies. But what does it mean for someone who’s ten or eleven today in 15 years? Where are they going to go work? And for the graduation seniors today, in three or four years, when they’re just getting going in their careers, that when the rug is going to get pulled out from under them, because ChatGPT takes over. So there’s this great sense of uncertainty no matter what graduating class we’re coming from. The 1940s. Are we going to go to war? The 1970s? What’s America going to look like with inflation and all the chaos? Fast forward to today. Kids graduating today had a big chunk of their college experience taken up from the pandemic, only to be now in an economic state of hyperinflation, bitterly divided government. Throw in what the Fed’s just done over the last year and raised rates on a percentage basis more than they’ve ever done in the history of the world. So it’s not just fresh graduates that face uncertainty. It’s all of us, every day. So in honor of graduation season, I thought it’d be appropriate to bring back one of the most insightful graduation speeches I’ve ever heard, which is now actually a tradition on my radio show Money Matters that we do right around Memorial Day weekend every year. So just like McConaughey said, these are yours to share and apply to your own life, particularly from our lens through a retire sooner lens. Today we’re going to do just that.

      So where does McConaughey start out? First one on the list. And arguably, I don’t know if all of these are perfect fits, so if they’re not a great fit, as I go through these, we’re just going to move on to the next one because there really are 13, but I don’t like the number 13, so I already cut it down to twelve and we may even do that here today. So let’s start out with number one. Life is not easy. Nobody’s going to argue McConaughey with that, but it’s a nice reminder. Ironically, when you’re sitting there talking to a group of graduate students or college grads, they have no idea just how hard life gets. Just think back to how easy life was when you were in college. It is about as easy as it gets. Newfound freedom, couple classes here and there throughout the day. Maybe you have a part time job, but what are you worried about? You’re worried about a few tests a few times a year and hanging out and having the time of your life and life at that stage. For a lot of people, it’s about as easy as it’s going to get. And then guess what? Life gets hard. And so is investing. No matter when we do this podcast, we can look back for the last couple of months, the last couple of weeks, the last couple of years, and say, wow, that is a volatile market, because it’s always volatile. And investing takes time. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of discipline and almost no one becomes an overnight millionaire, and almost no one hits some sort of home run on any one given stock or a meme stock, or a penny stock that goes through the roof and they make a lot of money. That just doesn’t really happen. Not to say it never happens, but it’s a little bit like the lottery. And in real world investing, there’s always aches and pains along the way. There’s always the next big black swan event that’s coming down the pike. It’s hard to stomach that pain, and it’s hard to stomach all that turmoil, and it’s easy to get knocked off track. That’s why it’s so important to remember participation in the market over really long periods of time. That’s really the elixir. It’s the marathon from the beginning to the end, not a series of sprints between the start and the finish line. So if we remember that, it’s just not going to be easy. Life ain’t easy. And nor is investing that’ll help us on the long journey we’re all on when it comes to accumulating wealth so that we can retire sooner and have financial independence. So if we can remember that in tough times because they will come, it’ll help us stay on the course.

      Number two, unbelievable is the stupidest word in the dictionary. And I think McConaughey, what he’s saying from a life perspective here, is that just anything can happen, and everything that you never thought would happen still happens. And I think that in the world that we live in today, it is pretty tough to be surprised. It’s almost impossible to be surprised of anything coming out of Washington. Surprises are constants when it comes to the equity markets, the stock market, what the Fed does, what countries do to each other. So unbelievable, particularly in the world we live in today, just shouldn’t be a word that you really use or really believe in if you’re actually using it, because almost everything is believable these days. But from an investing standpoint, it’s unbelievable. This stock is down 75%, or this stock is up 50% in a day. It’s not unbelievable. It happens all the time. It’s part of investing. It’s unbelievable. The stock market is down. We’re in bear market territory. My 401K is down 25%. It’s never going to recover. How’d this happen? It’s unbelievable. Or how about this for unbelievable? What if I told you the overall gain for Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway performance since 1964 through the end of 2022 is 3.78 million%? That is unbelievable. It’s not a typo. It really is over 3.7 million%, but it’s right there in his annual letter at the end of every year, his cumulative rate of return. Well, it’s unbelievable. I could never do that. Maybe we can’t ever recreate what Buffett did over the past almost six full decades, but guess what? Compare that with the S and P 500 over that same period of time, still over 30,000%. Guess what? That’s massive wealth accumulation just in the S and P 500, and there’s no magic to that creating that level of wealth. 30,000%. It’s not unbelievable because it’s actually happened, and it’s totally accessible to you at almost no cost. You just have to have the discipline to take advantage of it.

      Number three on the list choose joy over happiness. Now, I might be a little partial to this one when we talk a lot about the habits of happy versus unhappy retirees and happiness is a key theme throughout a lot of the research and what we talk about here the Retiree Sooner podcast. But in the last book that I did, what the Happiest Retirees Know 10 Habits for a healthy, secure and joyful Life. We talk a lot about the word joy. It was not a mistake to use the word joy in the title might be the most important word on the cover of the book. And maybe most importantly, when we think about joy, it’s something maybe even more enduring than just the word happy. We can be happy, unhappy that can come and go in any given day. But really, joy? Is this ever a constant state of positive well being, not just, oh, I’m happy today. In this time, happiest can be a quick fix. It can be a sugar high. But joy is something that you really have to set yourself up for, both mentally and logistically in life. And happy retirees have an entire recipe of what they do, whether it is family habits, social habits, travel habits, health habits, core pursuit habits that all come together collectively for this longer term, core, enduring state of joy.

      Number four, define success for yourself. One, from an investment standpoint, the last thing we want to do is chase what our neighbor is doing or what someone else success looks like. That’s chasing our tail. That’s a game we’ll never win. It’s always somebody badder. There’s always somebody richer, always somebody more good looking, always somebody cooler. Hey, look, I don’t care how cool you are, guess who’s cooler? Matthew McConaughey in his graduation speech. So define success for you and your family. And from a financial standpoint, this is the starting place for how it all happens. This is the blueprint for how it all comes together. We can’t build a house of complexity, and your retirement, believe me, is a house of complexity without a really solid blueprint or a plan. And guess what? You get to write it down. So I don’t care whether it’s a 30 page financial plan or a 50 page financial plan or 100 page estate plan or a one page retirement timeline, which I, by the way, love to use. There is so much power in us defining what we want financially and then mapping that out. It makes, number one, investing is not easy. It actually makes investing a lot easier when we know what we’re doing from year to year to year. What are investing goals? What is it going to take us to get there? Is it a million dollars? Is it 10 million? Is it 100 million? Are we trying to leave money to our kids? Are we trying to donate to charities? Are we investing for early, early retirement? Are we investing for income during retiree? Are we trying to have four to six different income streams when we get to retirement? And then from a family standpoint, what does fatherhood look like or what’s success for you as a spouse or a husband or a wife? What are your health success goals? Career, friendship, socialization? Just define it. And there’s so much power in that.

      Full disclosure, I am affiliated with Capital Investment Advisors, which is a full service and a fee only financial planning and investment management firm in Atlanta and Denver and Tampa and Phoenix or wherever you are. And if you’d like to take your retiree planning or retire sooner journey to the next level, capital Investment Advisors would love to help. You can find our team and schedule a time to chat at

      Number five. Process of elimination is the first step to our identity. I think McConaughey here is talking about really just in life, we got to cut out what we know is not us. We’ve got to cut out and eliminate the thorns in life. And that’s a really important practice when it comes to investing as well. So from an investment perspective, cut out what you’re not. If you’re not a conservative investors, then that’s fine. Cut it out. You’re not going to invest in a bunch of bonds and money markets because you’ll be frustrated. If you are a risk taker and that’s what you are, then guess what? That’s fine. But you’ve eliminated how you’re not. But if you’re not a risky investor and you know, you get freaked out and you literally can’t sleep well at night. If you’ve got high volatility stocks or 100% stock portfolio, then eliminate it. Or eliminate part of that risk and know that maybe you’re more a balanced stock bond collective investor. Also eliminate the crap in investing meme stocks. Crazy cryptocurrencies, I would say NFTs, but they’ve already essentially eliminated themselves. Knowing what you don’t want to invest in or participate in may be just as important as knowing what you do want to invest in.

      Number six don’t leave crumbs. Now, McConaughey uses kind of a funny example here, and it’s something like this. You’re in, let’s call it a golf group. You maybe don’t know one or two people, and you ended up not paying up. You didn’t pay up your debts, and you think, I was only $20 and I’m never going to see that guy again. But guess what you just did. You left a crumb, and now you’re looking over your shoulder, and one day you sit down the Regal Movie Theater to see the next Avenger movies with your kids and that guy is two rows behind you and you think, wait, oh, wait a minute. Isn’t that the guy that I didn’t pay? That’s a crumb. And you’re looking over your shoulder. That’s the life perspective. What McConaughey is talking down here from an investment perspective, I think it probably most relates to knowing you’re not doing something right. From an investment perspective, going out on a limb, oh, I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m going to do it anyway. I know I probably shouldn’t chase this trend. I know I shouldn’t be out on this limb. I know I shouldn’t be overspending this much. And even if it works out for a little while, guess what? You’re always looking over your shoulder. You’re looking for that crumb you left. That’s not where we want to be. From an investment standpoint, keep it inside the lines, especially when it comes to investing. Don’t leave landmines behind it’s again. Number one, it’s hard enough. Investing ain’t easy.

      Number seven, dissect your success and reciprocity and gratitude. Now, again, this is McConaughey language interpretation only. He says things like the dissect your success and reciprocity and gratitude. What does that all that mean? One, very few things are more powerful than real gratitude. And whether you’ve gone through something tough in life that’s made you grateful for the life that you do have, or you just practice regular gratitude, no matter which way you get to it, it is a practice that works. It is a practice that helps your well being. It is a practice that helps your mindset and dissect your success. Again, I think we’re here talking about understanding what we’re good at when it comes to where we are in our careers. But from an investment perspective, here’s what I think about I am grateful and thankful for the success based system that we have here in the United States. It’s called the army of American productivity. We’re sitting right smack dab in the middle of the most productive economy in the world. It might not be perfect alignment, but guess what? Every company in America wants the same thing you want for them. They want to grow. And pretty much every human, I’d say 80%, because we know one out of five people hate their job so much, they’re actively trying to bring their company down. They want to see their boss get fired. They want to see the company miss earnings. They want to see the company sales department go away. But the vast majority of humans, Americans, they are working there so that they can feed their family, to provide for their family. So guess what? They’re going to do everything they can to do the best job they can. And when those two goals overlap, it creates this harmony of progress and the growth of earnings for those great companies that we know here in America. Those great companies in the SP 500, they have millions of people working for them every single day, giving them their best. And the way I look at that is that’s an unstoppable inertia. That’s a driving force that pushes our economy to new heights over time and we get to invest in it in our 401.

      Number eight make voluntary obligations. Think McConaughey here telling these graduating seniors, commit to giving back to the community. Commit to helping society as a whole. Commit to leaving the world in a better place and just committing to it so that we force ourselves to do it. I think from a retire sooner perspective, I think of this in terms of money and investing. It’s a little simpler. Put your savings on autopilot voluntary obligations. I’m going to volunteer today to have an obligation that hits my paycheck every month and it goes into my 401K. I’m going to just voluntarily obligate myself to put this thing on autopilot. David Bach wrote a whole book about it called Automatic Millionaire Imagine. And maybe this is you still. You’ve got to write a check to your retirement account every month. I’m going to do it every month. I’m hyped to do it. I’m going to write it in January and then I do it again in February. But then in March comes up and we’re thinking, wait a minute, I’ve got all these lacrosse tournaments and trips I got to take to my kids. Maybe I’ll skip this month, and then next month maybe I’ll just skip it again. And next thing you know, you haven’t committed the savings you should be committing to your future. But I bet if you just turned it on autopilot auto draft out of your paycheck into your 401K or out of your bank account and or out of your bank account into an investment account. $100 a month, $500 a month, whatever it might be, guess what you have now voluntarily obligated yourself to save a whole bunch of money and create wealth over time. That, to me, is the power of a voluntary obligation when it comes to retire sooner. A little pain in the pocket today to grow your nest egg over decades. That’s a big part of the recipe for retire sooner.

      Number nine from can to want. Now, again, I think if we’re talking to a group of graduation thinking about, well, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it unless you want to do it, and I think that applies to our lives. Just because you can be a lawyer doesn’t mean you should end up being a lawyer if you want to be a musician. So of course I think we can all relate to that from a life perspective. But from a money perspective, I think this goes right back to this great consumer society that we live in. America is so good at marketing to America. Madison Avenue all the way back in the Don Draper days, just figured out how to sell and convince all of us that we deserve whatever they want to sell us, they’re so good at. It used to be posters on the wall. I have a poster from my fifth birthday. It was Daisy Duke from The Dukes of Hazard. Those posters sold a lot of Dukes of Hazard matchbox cars. Madison Avenue knew how to get us in the 60s. They got better in the 70s. By the time I was in the 1980s, they were still throwing posters on our walls for whatever they wanted us to buy. Today they’re doing the same thing, but they’re a hundred times better at it because it’s called Instagram. So why we call it Instaflation? Because exactly what you think you want shows up in your Instagram feed. And guess what? You can buy it. You can afford it. Doesn’t mean that you should. So to me, this from can to want. So we should try to enjoy saving and investing rather than feeling like we’re spending money on stocks, when in fact we’re investing money in stocks for our future. We should want and we should enjoy investing. Kind of reminds you of Ken Honda here on the podcast Happy Money. Kind of something similar here. Happy investing, happy saving. Investing in our future, investing in our financial freedom, embracing the journey of all those ups and downs. Embracing the investing is not easy. So just because we can afford it, what do we really want long term? And what we want is independence. Financial independence. Retire sooner. And in order to do that, we’ve got to enjoy the journey of saving and investing.

      Number ten, a roof is a man made thing. What does he mean by that? This is a pretty easy one. Don’t set a limit. There’s no reason for you to put a limit on your future. Anything you want to do, you really care about it that much. You’re a graduating senior from college or you’re 30 years old. There’s really nothing that is stopping you, particularly in the world that we live in today. You want to think small, build a roof or a ceiling to what you’re going to do career wise. It’ll stop you all day long. But that’s a ceiling. You’re putting on your own career, in your own life. It’s the same thing with investing. Well, I’ll never be able to get to a million dollars. I’ll never be able to get to $5 million. So we can never get to $10 million. Really? I’ve seen it done hundreds and hundreds and thousands of times from people who didn’t necessarily even make a whole lot of money. So it can be done. You just have to believe it can be done and not put limits on what can be done. So don’t put a ceiling or a roof. Those are artificial. We place them on ourselves. Think big. You do your retirement planning. Number four, defining your own success. Doing your own retirement, whether it’s a one page plan or 100 page plan. Push the limits a little bit. Push the limits a lot. See what you can do for the future as opposed to investing from a scared position. Again, a roof is a man made thing. Again, that’s coming right from McConaughey.

      Eleven. Turn the page. Now, this is just Life 101. We constantly get knocked down, spilled on, dumped on, yelled at, chastised, unappreciated. That happens to every single one of us almost every single day, particularly if you got kids. But what we can all choose to do is stay on that messy page or just turn it. Same thing with investing. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to mess up. We’re going to do things we didn’t quite want to do. We’re going to do things that weren’t quite right, investments didn’t quite work out, gears that weren’t as good as we thought. We’ve got to just learn from it and move on. Got to learn from it and keep going. Learn from it and another mile in the race, learn from it and continue down that journey. Whether it’s in our careers and it’s our earning potential and we messed up and it wasn’t as good as we thought, we just turn the page, learn from it, live to fight another day and survive. And it’s the same thing when it comes to investing our money. Even if it gets messed up doesn’t mean it will stay messed up as long as we’re getting the fundamentals right.

      Number Twelve give your obstacles credit now, this is probably just a fancy way of saying we learn from every time we get knocked down. We learn from the hardest times in life. I think I once saw a Kleenex commercial that reminded me that nothing great in life ever came easy. Of course, that was not a Kleenex commercial. That wouldn’t make any sense. But that’s a phrase I think we all remember and understand here in the United States. Nothing great ever came all that easy. And none of us are ever shaped through glide paths or escalators. Life is a series of big speed bumps and for most of us, brick walls that hurt. And those are big obstacles. And those are the obstacles that knock us down, bruise us, hurt us. And as long as we literally survive or live, they do or should make us stronger. Same thing when you think about investing. There are plenty of obstacles in investing. When’s the right time to buy? When’s the right time to sell? When will the market go down another 20%? Should it just stay out until it bottoms? How do you know when it’ll bottom? You don’t. Here’s a quick example if you’re 50 years or older so this is not everyone listening to the podcast. You’ve seen the S and P 500 cut in half three times in your life. Talk about a SmackDown. January 1973 October 1974 -48% March 2000. So this is if you’re in your 40s. Listen to the podcast. This is only 20 some years ago. March 2000 to October down 49%. October 7 to March of nine. Financial crisis at one point. S and P 500 down over 55%. Those are some pretty big obstacles to overcome. But if you learn from those obstacles, and we accept that often volatility presents opportunity to invest into the market, you’ll be a better, smarter investor. Pull a chart from the year 2000. Let’s call it December 31, 1999. Turn the clock to 2000. Remember Y2K. The world was going to shut down. Computers were going to freeze. Electricity was going to go out. By the way, that never happened. But 9/11 did happen and the technology bust happened. And then we had a massive housing crisis in 2006-2009 and a global pandemic in 2020. And ’21 and ’22. Yet here I am, looking at the SP 500. Despite a really rough start to that 20 plus year time frame, we’re about 340%, 340%. Give our investing obstacles credit. Markets can’t go straight up. They have to have these bumps and dips and potholes to create the risk to make it just scary enough that not everybody can do it. Because guess what? 10% a year is a pretty big deal. And that’s the long term average. Actually a little higher than that for the S and P 500. Just risky enough that not everyone can endure it. And by the way, at a 10% rate of return, your money doubles every 7.2 years. Pretty awesome. At 7.2%, money doubles every ten years or so. Still, a lot of magical compounding can happen with those numbers, and you should be able to harness them on your Retire Sooner journey.

      It’s graduation season. Whether you have a kid graduating from middle school to high school or elementary school to middle school, or a grandchild graduating from college, or you’re graduating from your full time job or the workforce, check out McConaughey’s speech. You can find it on YouTube. It’s hard to be on YouTube and not find it and looking at what I think is a very useful, powerful graduation speech with a financial lens for the Retire Sooner community. These twelve will be up on our website as well. You can find it on Congratulations to the class of 2023.

      Mallory Boggs [00:34:40]:

      Hey y’all, this is Mallory with the Retire Sooner team. Please be sure to rate and subscribe to this podcast and share it with a friend. If you have any questions, you can find us at You can also follow us on Instagram and YouTube. You’ll find us under the handle RetireSoonerPodcast. And now for our show’s. Disclosure this podcast is provided to you as a resource for informational purposes only and is not to be viewed as investment advice or recommendations. This information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance or financial circumstances of any specific investors and might not be suitable for all investors. It is not intended to and should not form a primary basis for any investment decision that you may make. Always consult your own legal tax or investment advisor before making any investment or financial planning considerations. Please refer to the full disclosure in the Podcast description for any additional information.


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