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From undocumented to unstoppable: How the RIGHT rules set me free

Daniela Pierre-Bravo, an MSNBC producer, explains how she had to shift her relationship with rules — from growing up under government laws that oppressed her, to telling a lie in order to land an internship that would eventually change her life.
Daniela Pierre-Bravo, an MSNBC producer and co-author of "Earn It!: Know Your Value and Grow Your Career, in Your 20s and Beyond."
Daniela Pierre-Bravo, an MSNBC producer and co-author of "Earn It!: Know Your Value and Grow Your Career, in Your 20s and Beyond."Anthony Scutro.

As an undocumented immigrant, Daniela Pierre-Bravo used to be an obsessive rule-follower. But as she grew up and as her career developed, she had to learn how to reassess the rules in order to truly know ― and own ― her own value.

On Thursday, Pierre-Bravo spoke about her remarkable path at a TEDx event called WaterStreet: Reset. From the stage, the MSNBC “Morning Joe” producer explained how she got to where she is today by shifting her relationship with rules — from growing up under government laws that oppressed her, to telling a lie in order to land an internship that would eventually change her life.

“I believe in rules, but not just any rules. I believe in the right rules: the ones that set us all on a path to live and contribute and work without fear,” said Pierre-Bravo.

Daniela Pierre-Bravo speaking at a TedX event in New York City on Thursday.Adelaide Chantilly

As a child growing up in Chile, Pierre-Bravo, the oldest of five children, was so stringent that she once called the police on her parents’ party downstairs.

“I’ve always been a stickler for the rules. And as far as I was concerned, they were breaking them. The music was way too loud, especially after bedtime,” she said.

Pierre-Bravo’s family immigrated to Lima, Ohio when she was 11-years-old. She found it difficult to fit in and follow the rules. Her accent was off, she looked different, and most critically, she was in the country illegally.

“Me, the lover of rules. It turned out I was breaking a major rule every day I lived my life here,” she said. “...The word ‘undocumented’ is more than a lack of status. It’s a feeling. It’s always there with you. Am I enough? Am I worthy? Could I ever belong?”

Pierre-Bravo managed to attend college without citizenship paperwork. Her stint was temporarily interrupted when she got into a fender bender and, without a license or insurance, had to pay the other driver $3,000 of her tuition money. She left school while recouping the funds by working as a house cleaner, a restaurant worker and as a Mary Kay consultant. Eventually, she returned to school.

“This wasn’t about curfews or grades anymore. It was about something sturdier: creating self-imposed rules that gave you the internal anchor to keep going when things got really hard and no one was there to help. Discipline, dogged persistence, self-trust,” she said.

When it was time to find an internship, Pierre-Bravo knew that she was coming from a disadvantaged place—not just because of her immigration status, but because she lived far away from her dream city, New York. On an application for an internship at Bad Boy Entertainment (P. Diddy’s record label), she bent the truth considerably.

“Instead of saying I was on Withrow street in Oxford, Ohio, I put down that I was on 116th and Broadway in NYC. I didn't want to risk giving them a chance to make excuses for me, ‘oh she’s not local, she’s not from here’ and very likely toss out my resume,” she recalled.

Pierre-Bravo was thrilled when Bad Boy called her in for an interview—but, they wanted her to come in the next day. She couldn’t fly without identification, so she hopped on a Greyhound bus and rode 18 hours from Ohio to New York. She cleaned up in the Port Authority Bus Terminal and went straight to her interview.

Pierre-Bravo had broken every rule in the book. But in this case, it paid off.

“I told the interviewer that I hadn’t just hopped off a subway, but off an overnight bus from Ohio. I wanted them to know how seriously I took this opportunity. And it mattered, even if it was unpaid. They were impressed ... And I got the internship.”

She worked three or four jobs in addition to the internship in order to support herself in New York.

Then, in 2012, Pierre-Bravo caught a break. President Barack Obama launched the DACA program, which allowed her—and other immigrants who had moved to America as children—to acquire a legal work permit.

The law enabled Pierre-Bravo to work in the NBC page program, where she met “Morning Joe” co-host and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski. Brzezinski couldn’t believe her backstory and ultimately hired her as a booking producer. The two later co-authored the book “Earn It: Know Your Value and Grow Your Career, in Your 20s and Beyond.”

To give back, Pierre-Bravo recently launched a mentorship network called Acesso, where any young woman can find career support.

She implored the TEDx audience to embrace immigrants as part of the “fabric of this country.”

“I am here today because the rules changed. They freed me, gave me a chance, and because I stuck by my own rules when they did not exist for me,” said Pierre-Bravo. “...DACA is only a temporary fix. We need stronger rules, long-term solutions, in order to take advantage of that freedom we’ve proved ourselves more than worthy of, to continue making our efforts and contributions truly count under the right rules.”