Just the Good Stuff

No-BS Secrets to Success (No Matter What Life Throws at You)

About the Book

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A deeply personal, authentic, and clear-eyed guide to navigating today’s complex world and building a meaningful, successful career and life—no matter where you start out—from the bestselling author and cofounder of Axios and Politico.

Jim VandeHei’s high school guidance counselor laid it out clearly: VandeHei wasn’t cut out for college. In 1990, you could find him proving the counselor’s case emphatically, preferring beer to books and delivering pizzas to mapping out career plans. He attended a two-year school before smuggling himself into the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where after a year he had racked up a 1.4 GPA and was on the verge of getting the boot.

Everything changed when he discovered his passions: politics and journalism. 

VandeHei went on to cover the presidency and cofound two of the biggest modern news outlets, Politico and Axios, the media companies that upended and revolutionized journalism. He took notes every step of the way. And in Just the Good Stuff, his debut as a solo author, VandeHei writes the book he wishes someone had handed him when he was floundering—not a compendium of conventional wisdom but a real-world guide to achieving that other “good stuff,” health, wealth, happiness, all the blessings and exquisite pleasures we loosely group under that oft used but still under-appreciated rubric—success. 

Delivered in his hallmark no-word-wasted style, VandeHei offers essential, no-BS guidance on how to handle everything from finding a calling to building a team to navigating the realities of a changing workplace, showing us that no matter how inauspicious our beginnings, no matter how far down the ladder we begin, no matter what kind of challenges we face, a fulfilling life is within our reach.
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Excerpt

Just the Good Stuff

Chapter 1

Zotheka!


After I’d spent fifty-one years in an artless body, my first tattoo was slapped on my right shoulder at the tail end of 2022. Zotheka, it reads.

WHY IT MATTERS. In Malawi, I was told, zotheka is considered among the most muscular words and means: “It is possible.”

I had just wrapped up an unforgettable mission trip with my two sons, Kelvin and James. Local villagers would chant “Zotheka!” with infectious smiles and enthusiasm.

It nails the animating spirit of my view on work, life, health, and the purpose of this book.

You might roll your eyes at this cheesy lens.

But the mere fact that a middling dipshit like me could rise to the pinnacle of American journalism, then become CEO of two highly successful media start-ups—and then persuade you to read this—shows that truly anything is possible.

I was so middling that at my high school graduation, they had to make up an award because I had no scholastic, academic, or extracurricular achievements. They didn’t want me to be the only kid with nothing to applaud. They called it the Campus Ministry Award because I hung out a lot in the campus ministry room, where I quickly learned I could weasel my way into random errands and sneak smokes.

Oh, and when I graduated college in a speedy 5.5 years and loaded up my VW Rabbit to hit the big time in Washington, D.C., I confidently fired off a hundred résumés before landing a job—carrying bricks for a bricklayer.

I was remarkably unremarkable.

Whether you are in high school, your early career, or your late career, or living happily retired in Florida, you should embrace the Zotheka mentality for four big reasons:

• IT’S TRUE. You can dog America all you want. But every person, even in the crappiest of circumstances, has the potential to do great things. Too often, people use circumstance as a crutch.

• IT’S LIBERATING. Once you break free of believing you are limited by education, family, location, your current job, or circumstance, you start to push yourself, take risks, reveal new dimensions.

• IT’S INTOXICATING. One of the tricks to life is stacking small wins on top of each other—run half a mile, then a mile, before trying to nail a half-marathon. Next thing you know, you are doing things you once thought impossible. It’s addictive.

• IT BEATS THE HELL OUT OF THE ALTERNATIVE. Life is hard enough without slapping restrictions on what is possible. It’s a drag to feel like a prisoner to the status quo. Oh, and no one wants to hang with a hangdog.


Chapter 2

Constructing Greatness


Sally Jenkins, sports columnist for The Washington Post, captured brilliantly the secret to success in business and life:

Tom Brady, the greatest NFL quarterback ever, she wrote, “proved that any kid with perfectly ordinary athletic prospects, the middle-of-the-packer who doesn’t come with some preloaded or far-fetched anatomical gift, can construct greatness. What made him great was an inner curiosity, an urge to fill in his blanks and see what might happen with enough study and sweat.”

Brady was a sixth-round draft pick and considered unremarkable by most conventional measures. He willed himself into being the greatest QB ever.

WHY IT MATTERS. Okay, no shot you will be Brady. But you don’t need to be born a genius or sports sensation, attend Harvard, or have friends in high places to be the very best at what you do.

You simply need to decide what matters most to you—and do the hard, daily work to make it happen.

You control you. So much time and angst gets wasted fixating on the past. So don’t.

Graduating in the bottom third of my high school class actually motivated me and helped me appreciate a few lessons on how any of us middle-of-the-packers can beat the dealer:

• THE PAST AND PEDIGREES ARE OVERRATED. The second you hit the real world and workplace, no one gives a hoot about your college, GPA, or past mistakes or triumphs. It’s all forward motion: What are you doing now? What can you do next?

• DO SOMETHING YOU WOULD DO FOR FREE. You can’t fake passion. And passion leads to a healthy daily obsession. If you find a way to get paid to do what you love most, passion comes naturally. All of us should be in perpetual pursuit of a job we love doing, until kids or true obligations to others prevents it.

• STEAL FROM THOSE SMARTER THAN YOU. Be a student of those crushing what you want to crush. And copy their best habits or moves. Read. Listen to podcasts. Pick up the phone. A little trick: Call or email people you admire. You will be shocked at how generous most people are about sharing their tricks and wisdom. All of us want to be asked how we do something well. Exploit this.

• SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GOODNESS AND GREATNESS. Success is wasted if you do not find good people to both share it with and learn from. Glue yourself to people who make you better and make you feel better. Stop justifying bad bosses, friends, or partners. Glue yourself to people you admire and soak up their smarts.

• GRIT IS IT. My wife, Autumn, and I spend more time talking with our kids about this than grades or awards. There is no substitute for getting up every day and pouring uncommon time and effort into what matters most. This means sucking it up when you flop or fail. I have no tolerance for people who whine but don’t grind. Don’t be that person.

About the Author

Jim VandeHei
Jim VandeHei is the cofounder and CEO of Axios, a media company focused on breaking news and invaluable insights across business, politics, technology, and the world. VandeHei is also coauthor of Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More with Less. Before Axios, VandeHei cofounded and was CEO of Politico, the media company that upended and revolutionized political and policy journalism. Prior to this, VandeHei spent more than a decade as a reporter, covering the presidency and Congress for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. VandeHei is from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. More by Jim VandeHei
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