The Promise of a Pencil Book Cover

The Promise of a Pencil

How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change
Book by: Adam Braun
Publishing Year: 2015
Reading time: Key takeways: Quotes:

What’s inside

The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change is a book written by Adam Braun. The book was originally published in the year 2014. Adam Braun is an American entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist. Pencils of Promise is a non-profit organization founded by him that promises many things in the developing world. It helps the society by building schools and increasing access to education for children in developing countries. The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change debuted in second place on the New York Times Bestseller list. The book tells the inspiring story of Adam Braun and how he turned $25 into 200 schools all around the world.

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    Lesson 1. Turning $25 into 200 Schools.

    Adam Braun was a promising student who was trained enough to have a thriving career in Wall Street. Adam took some time off to see the world. During his journey, the world-wide poverty and the deprivation of basic education came to his notice. This is when he decided to raise money for building a school in Laos. 

    Before Braun began his trip around the world, he had decided that he would ask one child per country a question, “If you could have anything in the world, what would you want most?”

    The purpose of this question was that it would give Braun a chance to connect with at least one child in every country he was visiting. He used to write down their answers. And upon returning, he wanted to create a map of their responses. Fast cars, a flat-screen Television, an iPod were the expected answers. Upon asking the question, one of those kids answered that if she could have anything she wants her mother to be healthy, one answered that he wanted a pencil. And another little girl said that she just wanted to dance. But he was rather surprised to realise that most of the kids wanted something that he has taken for granted.  

    Pencils of Promise began with the goodwill of a group of supportive friends and $25 to its name. It started from the bottom and now it is a leading charity worldwide. Adam Braun successfully transformed $25 into 200 schools by the time this book was written. Teacher training and student scholarships are also provided by this charity. 

    Inevitably hard work is the reason behind the accomplishment. But this accomplishment can also be traced back to the passion, gratitude, reliance, and inspiration of Adam Braun and his colleagues.

    Through this book, Braun wants to tell his readers to be different. You do not have to follow your peers. Choose to be different. Astounding personal transformation is possible if you are willing to struggle, sacrifice, and serve. Discover yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Getting out of your comfort zone ensures true self-discovery. 

    Lesson 2. Dare to Pursue Your Dreams.

    Pursuing your dreams is easier said than done. You will be torn between two paths constantly. One is safe and the other has a little risk. Be determined and decisive enough to take a little risk.  If the dreams you are pursuing are not meeting the expectations of society for you, do not let it discourage you. 

    Adam Braun sets a good example. He was all set to have a bright career in Wall Street, but instead, he chose to found a charity that will raise enough money to build a school in Laos. His family tried to convince him to rethink his decision and not give up on Wall Street as they considered his dream a waste of time. 

    Often we feel discouraged while pursuing our dreams because they seem to be unachievable in the beginning. But are your dreams really unattainable? Don’t answer this question, without even trying. 

    By the year 2013, Pencils of Promise had shown swift growth, with groundbreaking success. They built their 100th school in Ghana. Initially, no one believed that Pencils of Promise would be this grand. Not even Adam himself. This overwhelming success was a promise of a new dawn to those children with big dreams, and also for the whole world. 

    Just by believing and committing to their idea, Adam Braun with his entire team has transformed apparently an unachievable goal into reality.

    We need to dream bigger and dream more often. And do everything it takes to fulfill your dream. Do not let society control you. Have control of your life. All your dreams can come true if you dare to pursue them. 

    Lesson 3. Think Out of Your Bubble.


    We live in a personal bubble. We prefer to live our lives with like-minded people because it offers safety and comfort. Surrounding ourselves with people sharing the same opinions, habits, and lifestyle is not the best way to live. Ups and downs are a part of our lives. Getting out of your comfort zone sometimes can enrich our lives. Walt Disney had rightly said, 

    “Good things come to people who wait, but better things come to those who go out and get them.”

    Consider Adam, who had lived a very fulfilling, untroubled adolescence with a loving family and was all set for a successful career on Wall Street. Instead, he decided to take a semester off to travel around the globe. By taking this risk and embracing optimism, he was able to change not only his life but also the lives of people surrounding him. 

    For instance, while traveling, a local man in Guatemala offered to let Adam stay at his home in exchange for free English lessons. That man was a stranger. Adam didn’t know what to expect. He was even concerned about his safety. But in the weeks that he spent in that man’s house, Adam expanded his linguistic horizons. He learned Spanish from that man and made new friends! And any of this would not have been possible if he hadn’t stepped out of his bubble. 

    It is not an easy job to get out of your comfort zone. Take a little risk occasionally and be optimistic.  If you spend all your time thinking about what might go wrong, you'll never be able to do something new. 

    Lesson 4. Intuitions 


    Intuition is our most important advisor. Some people have a stronger sense of intuition than others. Sometimes we feel strongly about something without knowing the reason for it. This is our intuition on the move. And sometimes we should let our intuition direct us because it knows, from beforehand, what is going to be the best for us. Intuition is an extremely crucial element while pursuing our dreams.

    This is exactly what Adam Braun did while establishing his charity. At a concert in New York, Philharmonic, Adam was wonderstruck by the passion he witnessed in a pianist’s performance. He was captivated by that passion. Soon, he started to wonder what it would be like to feel so strongly about the love you have for something. He wanted to have this kind of passion in his own life. This is when the poverty he had witnessed and the people he had met while traveling the world kept coming back in his mind. And this brought him back the joy he felt while helping these people. And at this moment it hit him that nothing can bring him more passion than a life spent on helping others.

    And this was a more fulfilling way of living, than a career on Wall Street. It was on that very night when he sat down to write the mission statement for Pencils of Promise. 

    Listening to his intuition led Adam to pursue his dreams. The trust he had put in his own instincts guided him to get out of all the difficulties he faced. 

    For example, Even though his dream was not a desk-job, he did not leave his job because that job was a financial consultant to finance his goal. Adam’s conflicting schedule made his boss ask him to choose between his career and the Promise of a Pencil. 

    Adam was conflicted. He started to think about this issue on his ride home. A very simple thing helped Adam to make his mind. It was a cardboard box graffitied with a very simple phrase, “Become your dream”. This simple phrase got stuck in his mind and he took it as a sign. This incident helped him in quitting his job and devoting his entire time to Pencils of Promise. He has never had to look back since. 

    Lesson 5. Small Steps.


    Dreaming big has one strange shortcoming, that is, we are afraid to chase our dreams as they are often so big that it seems to be eccentrically unrealistic. But if you are dreaming of changing the world, do not miscalculate the small steps you need to take to reach your final goal. 

    While backpacking through India, Adam met a little boy. He asked the little boy what would he want most, if he could have anything in the world.  The answer stunned him. That little boy wanted a pencil. He wanted just a pencil. 

    Without more ado, Adam opened his backpack to give that little boy one of his pencils. Adam was stunned because he did not know that something that he considered so insignificant had the power to fulfill a child’s greatest wish. This small gift opened so many new doors to that boy. This enabled him to learn and practice reading and writing. 

    This incident moved Adam so much that he decided to name his charity after this encounter. 

    Adam wanted to build this charity immediately after he had come home from traveling around the world. But he was struggling with money at this moment. So he took $25, the minimum amount required to open an account. And he started a savings fund with this $25 for Pencils of Promise. After this, he started to crowd fund this idea. In next to no time this $25 started to grow. Soon he had a few thousand dollars he could use to finance his goal. All of this would not have been possible if Adam did not believe in his dreams. If Adam had not started by taking small and practical steps, Pencils of Promise would not have become a reality. 

    As Martin Luther King once said,


    “If you can’t fly then run. If you can’t run then walk.  If you can’t walk then crawl. But whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”


    So no matter how big your dream is, never be afraid to take a small step towards fulfilling it.

    Lesson 6. Inspiration. 


    There is a reason why success cannot happen in a bubble. It is because of the simple fact that we need other people. Living our best lives requires the support of other people. It is the basic foundation of human interactions that we should listen to, support, and serve our fellow human beings which will allow them to do the same for us. There is another vital requirement needed to change the world and that is inspiring other people. 

    Their support can embrace you in the form of encouragement, volunteer work, or donations. Not only do you have to believe in your dreams but also you need other people to believe in your dream. This is one of the most crucial ingredients to pave a path to achieve any dream. 

    And one of the most important things Adam has learnt is that you get only one shot at a first impression.  All of us know this. But what we do not know is the impact that it leaves on both an individual and a crowd.  It is easier to make an excellent impression when you are interacting with only one individual. But when you are interacting with a crowd, you need to make an effective effort at making each person in your audience feel important. 

    Adam came up with a simple rule that he follows while interacting with a crowd and that is “one person, one thought.”

    When Pencils of Promise was just set in motion, Adam, along with a few of his friends, started to tour across the country. They were speaking at universities and inviting people to volunteer along with them. But their very first public speaking event was attended by only one person. This made Adam very disappointed but he did not give up. Instead, he poured all his heart into his speech. Because he would have done the same if an entire crowd had attended it. And it was a success because that very person became a devoted volunteer!  

    Lesson 7. A Note to Remember.


    We only have one life so fill it with joy, love, meaning, kindness, and inspiration. To live the best life that you can have, do not be afraid of facing obstacles. Pursuing your dreams will not only change your life but also the lives of the people surrounding you. 

    And if you believe in yourself and you are willing to take a risk, then no goal is unachievable. If taking a risk can unimaginably change your life then do not be afraid. 

    Take a risk. Break a Leg.

    Your failure is defined by the way you handle it. Learn the right way to deal with your failure. Always learn from your failure

    Remember, not trying is worse than failing

    And most importantly never underestimate yourself. Always be confident about your worth. Never doubt yourself. You do not have to live up to society’s expectations. Since your most important resource is you, invest in yourself. 

    Always be grateful to the people who have supported you in trying times. Learn to say thank you.

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    About the author

    Adam Braun Image

    Adam Braun is the Founder of Pencils of Promise. This award-winning for-purpose organization has built over 200 schools across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and delivered over 30 million educational hours to impoverished children. PoP was founded with jus...

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