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Jeffrey B. Chu ’99

Articles Editor, Fast Company

The story of how I chose my major begins with failure. I came to Princeton believing wholeheartedly that I’d major in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. I wasn’t much good at math and I didn’t want to do anything scientific. I thought I might have some kind of career in government service or perhaps in law or journalism, so it seemed the most practical, useful concentration.

When the rejection letter came—and however the kind people in the Woodrow Wilson School may like to couch it, it was and is still a rejection letter—I was stung and I was shocked. Had they not seen my life plan? So I then did I what I thought would be the next-best thing—I became a politics major—and it turned out to be the very best thing. 

In ways that I could not have predicted, my work in my concentration has informed my work as a journalist. As a London-based writer for Time and now as an articles editor at the business magazine Fast Company, I have repeatedly drawn on stuff I studied at Princeton. One of my favorite classes turned out to be “Political Cultures of the Middle East”; a few years later, I found myself digging up the reading material from that class as I reported and wrote about civil liberties and cultural mores in the Arab world. For my senior thesis research, I traveled to the European Parliament in Brussels to meet with legislators; four years later, I found myself back in that same chamber, interviewing them and writing about them for Time. Today, I’m working on a yearlong series of in-depth stories on China for Fast Company—and the research I did for my junior paper, about self-censorship in the Hong Kong press, often comes to mind.

Pursuing unexpected opportunities

When I look back at my choice of politics, it was perhaps a little more haphazard and impulsive than I’d like to admit; I’d never had a Plan B in mind. But there was a lesson in that, too. My experience in the politics department and at Princeton taught me plenty about politics, about theory, about bookish things that turned out to be pretty useful. But it also taught me to be more open to unexpected opportunities and to be ready for—and curious about—things that might not sit directly on the path that I’d already mapped out. 

And so, even as I’ve done the stories about European politics and Chinese socioeconomics, I’ve also done things that seemingly have nothing to do with any topic I know anything about. Beyond the political realm, my reporting has taken me clubbing in Sweden with songwriters for Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys; to a Spanish beach with Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry; and into a thatch-roofed hut with AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe. 

Remember that this story began with an alleged failure. I believe that not getting into “Woody Woo” and the humbling that came with it—the realization that maybe I didn’t always know best what was practical, useful, and possible—helped take me all these places. And at the risk of sounding like my mother (and maybe yours), I’ll say that my career is just one more bit of evidence that everything happens for a reason.