“Per me si va ne la città dolente / per me si va ne l’etterno dolore / per me si va tra la perduta gente/ (…) Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”
Dante Alighieri, Canto III Inferno
This is the most arrogant and annoying article you will ever read on my blog. Continue reading at your own risk.
A few years ago, on a scorching summer morning, I hurriedly arrived to catch the ferry to Corsica at the port of Livorno. I smiled at the long queue and positioned myself at the end. One of the crew members checking tickets called out, “Hey, girl at the back, come here!” I jumped ahead of all the angry people waiting in the sun and went to him. He said, “Okay, come in.” His colleague said, “But you let her skip the line!” and he replied, letting me in, “She has the Pass.” His colleague asked confusedly, “What Pass?”- “Her smile.”
Here’s the story, told by an expert, of how to have the Pass in any situation, of those who have had the Pass, of those who have forcibly expropriated a Pass, and why we all have the right to have a Pass.
“She somehow opens doors with ease, doors that are locked to us, mere mortals.” Recommendation on my Linkedin profile from an ex-FBI agent.
WHAT IS THE PASS
Last week, I travelled to Brussels, Belgium to visit clients. On my first evening, I had beers with my friend Frank (an extraordinary politician and networker, you can read his story here), who brought me an article about Alexandra David-Néel, a Belgian explorer from the 1900s, who was also an opera singer, Freemason, writer, and versatile scholar. In 1924, Alexandra David-Néel was the first Western woman to reach Lhasa. After an arduous eight-month journey, crossing war-torn China, she was able to enter the city, strictly off-limits to foreigners at the time, by disguising herself as a Tibetan beggar. Frank brought me the article, proclaiming that I was the reincarnation of Alexandra D. N.
During our conversation, Frank took a billion notes about my life, and at the end of the evening, he announced, “Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to compose an email using these notes and invite all the most interesting people from Brussels and the European institutions based here to a presentation about you on Saturday morning!”
Much to my amusement, on Saturday morning, without having any speech prepared, I showed up at a bar in front of the European Parliament, where about 30 incredibly interesting people from all over the world were waiting to hear my story. To my great surprise, as I spoke about my life, I discovered a central theme uniting the parts of my story and realized that it was exactly the same as what predominated in Alexandra David Neel’s life.
She had The Pass, and I have it too. In fact, we didn’t just have it, we demanded it and grabbed it for ourselves.
Having The Pass means having the ability to overcome obstacles, bypass rules, or take advantage of others’ mental frames and preconceived notions. Essentially, it represents a sense of empowerment or assertiveness to go after what one wants without waiting for permission or conforming to societal norms.
I have never held back, waiting for permission, not even my own, to enter new situations, places, or roles. Audentes Fortuna Iuvat.
And now I will teach you how to do the same.
HOW TO GET THE PASS
1. Don’t wait (forever) to meet the access requirements
a) In his book “World Order,” Henry Kissinger tells the story of Cardinal Richelieu: “…after studying theology, completed his religious studies so quickly that he was below the minimum age required for a clerical appointment. He overcame this obstacle by travelling to Rome and personally lying to the Pope about his age. Once he obtained his credentials, he immersed himself in factional politics at the French Royal Court, becoming the first close aide to Queen Mother Maria de Medici and afterwards a trusted advisor to her chief political rival, her minor son, King Louis XIII.”
b) In another of Henry Kissinger’s books, “Leadership,” where he appears to secretly admire cunning individuals, I made a fascinating discovery about Charles De Gaulle. Like most people, I had always assumed that De Gaulle was the ultimate representative of the French state when he went to London during World War II in 1940 and declared on the BBC that he represented Free France, opposing the occupying regime led by General Petain in Vichy. However, it turns out that when he made that speech, Charles de Gaulle held no significant position! He didn’t even hold the rank of General; he was simply a Colonel in the 507th Tank Regiment, under the authority of General Petain. If an ordinary individual can declare on the BBC that they represent Free France and later represent their country alongside victorious powers in the UN Security Council, despite having actually lost the war, and be believed… then anything can happen!
c) Between 1856 and 1863, the father of modern genetics, Gregor Mendel, conducted groundbreaking experiments on pea plants. To gain access to the monastery where he conducted his research, crafty Gregor lied about his intentions and claimed that he was conducting innocent experiments on plant hybridization solely for agricultural purposes. His discoveries laid the foundation for our understanding of hereditary and genetic principles. What was he supposed to wait for, for the time to be ripe for his groundbreaking studies? The time became ripe because of his studies.
“Deception is the knowledge of kings.” Cardinal Richelieu
2. Bypass the rules of the system
Believing that the rules and necessities imposed on a specific corner of the world within the confines of a tiny fragment of time are fixed and valid everywhere and forever is a decidedly foolish thought. The only thing even more foolish is letting such thoughts limit us. Whenever I hear someone say they “need a certificate” to do something they are capable of or that they “can’t” do something that is only forbidden just in one given corner of the world, it makes me shudder. You are not baobabs. No offense to baobabs. Move to a corner of the world where certificates are not required. Find creative ways to bypass the rules.
a) Jeff Hawkins begins his book “A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence” by explaining, “I studied electrical engineering in college and started my career. But soon after, I began reading about the brain. I was struck by the fact that scientists had amassed many details of the brain’s architecture, but how it worked was a mystery. It was as if we had a circuit diagram of the brain but no idea how it functioned. I felt we could solve this mystery in my lifetime, and when we did, we would have a much better idea of what intelligence is and how to build intelligent machines.”
However, considering the fact that he studied electrical engineering and dedicated his life to being an entrepreneur, one lifetime would not have been enough for him to develop his theory in the field of neuroscience. This would have required 10 years of university study followed by a career starting at the bottom with the usual experiments on mice. Instead, he bypassed the rules of the system and founded Numenta, a company that develops unique AI solutions based on two decades of neuroscience research: a company in which he was able to hire highly qualified staff, armed with numerous doctorates and enriched by decades of study. Through their work, he was able to develop one of the most important theories on the workings of the brain and the future of AI.
This study bears his name, with the title of neuroscientist beside it, even though he never officially became a neuroscientist. But by now, no one cares.
3. Take advantage of people’s mental frames
Let’s stop complaining for a moment about the fact that people think in frames, and instead exploit it to our advantage, like our friend Alexandra David-Neel did when she entered Lhasa undisturbed, dressed as a Tibetan beggar.
Frames of thought consist of mental representations, interpretations, and simplifications of reality. We need to change the narrative, but getting angry because the racism, sexism and the familiar patterns ingrained in previous generations are not easy to dismantle won’t solve our problems. Frames, simplifications, and prejudices are the ways by which we poor, foolish humans create simple patterns for understanding this complex reality so that we have a compass to guide our way and a lifeboat so we don’t find ourselves drowning in information.
I’d like to tell you about some extraordinary individuals who were not deterred by their circumstances in which horror and injustice reigned; instead, like magicians, they disguised themselves as innocent figures, fitting in with the perpetrators’ preconceived notions, and thus were able to accomplish incredible feats.
a) Irena Sendler, The Camouflage Octopus, was a Polish social worker who saved around 2500 Jewish children during the Holocaust. She took advantage of the Nazi guards’ stupid mental frames and operated under various identities. One identity was a plumbing and sewer technician. She entered the ghetto like a rockstar in a van and succeeded in sneaking some newborns out by hiding them in the bottom of a toolbox or in a jute sack. In the back of the van, a dog was trained to bark when Nazi soldiers approached, thus covering the children’s cries. Another identity was as a social worker. She worked for the Social Welfare Department in Warsaw, which gave her access to the Warsaw Ghetto, where the Jews were confined by the Nazis. She asked permission to enter the ghetto to inspect sanitary conditions for typhus, but she used this opportunity to save Jewish children.
b) During World War II, a creative group of art historians, museum curators, and archaeologists known as the Monuments Men worked to protect cultural treasures from destruction by disguising themselves as innocent and very common military personnel to gain access to cultural sites and track down stolen artworks.
c) To gain credibility and authority, and navigate more easily in a male-dominated world, Harriet Tubman disguised herself as a man, under the code name of Moses, gaining the trust and cooperation of conductors, abolitionists, and fugitive slaves, in the 19th century. Under this guise, she led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom through the Underground Railroad in the US. To guide the slaves she had liberated, she would sing the hymn “Go Down Moses,” altering the rhythm in case of danger. By presenting herself as a man, she could move more freely and attract less attention, as women were more likely to be seen as suspicious figures during that time.
Now, stop complaining because you feel limited and disguise yourself as someone who doesn’t.
After going through a door, people on the other side will assume you had every right to enter.
As my dear readers who have the pass know, the most wonderful thing about having the pass is that once you have entered through a seemingly locked door, everyone will assume that you had the pass.
Several years ago, I had the desire to join the European Union’s leaders from the State of the Union conference for drinks. To make it happen, I reached out to a journalist friend to use his code to apply for a press pass online. Surprisingly, the ticket arrived promptly without the need to undergo any additional scrutiny.
Dressed in my finest attire, I headed to the summit in a city heavily guarded by police. Upon presenting my Pass, the organization’s representative, without giving it a second glance, inquired, “Leader or journalist?” I responded, “Leader,” and was swiftly given a Pass granting me access to two days of conferences and complimentary cocktail parties (funded by taxpayers’ money) with European leaders.
I even had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with a drunk and sentimental foreign minister, who candidly confessed that regardless of one’s professional achievements, returning to one’s childhood home inevitably prompts others to still see them as the same old failure they had always been.
Interestingly, throughout the summit, no one questioned my presence or how I had secured an invitation, and this year, to my surprise, I received an automatic invitation without any effort on my part.
Just as De Gaulle represented France, Jeff Hawkins is seen as a neuroscientist, Richelieu obtained the right to establish his political career, and Alexandra David-Neel could innocently enter a forbidden state, I was also welcomed into realms to which I should theoretically not have had access. The examples of my Pass in the article are just the tip of the iceberg.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I am encouraging you to break non-existent or negligible barriers and overcome unnecessarily paralyzing limits. I am not encouraging anyone to defect, lie, or work as a surgeon without 12 years of study behind them. Needless to say, some jobs require certificates to demonstrate competence, provide quality assurance, and meet legal requirements. I also firmly believe that the Pass can only be obtained by people with a pure heart, who fight for the greater good or to make the world a better place. As a hotel receptionist once told me at five in the morning, ‘Your mission will go well. When you do good, the entire universe conspires to help you.” And, may I add, it will give you the Pass so that you succeed in your mission.
Have you ever wondered why Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the Director-General of the WTO? Or why Christine Lagarde is the President of the European Central Bank? No, of course not, we take for granted that they are the most qualified and deserving. Because they are already inside.
Yet, reading books like “Bush at War” by Bob Woodward, or “Adults in the Room” by Yanis Varoufakis, you discover that very, very often in this world, no one knows exactly what they are doing.
All that matters is having the Pass.
Incredible books that inspired my article:
- “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” Robert M. Edsel
- “Leadership” Henry Kissinger
- “A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence” Jeff Hawkins
- “World Order” Henry Kissinger
- “Bush at war” Bob Woodward
- “Adults in the room” Yanis Varoufakis
- “Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom” Catherine Clinton
- “The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler” Anna Mieszkowska