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The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change

The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change

4.9 14
by Adam Braun

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The riveting New York Times bestseller about a young man who built more than 250 schools around the world—and the steps anyone can take to lead a successful and significant life.

Adam Braun began working summers at hedge funds when he was just sixteen years old, sprinting down the path to a successful Wall Street career. But while traveling he met a


The riveting New York Times bestseller about a young man who built more than 250 schools around the world—and the steps anyone can take to lead a successful and significant life.

Adam Braun began working summers at hedge funds when he was just sixteen years old, sprinting down the path to a successful Wall Street career. But while traveling he met a young boy begging on the streets of India, who after being asked what he wanted most in the world, simply answered, “A pencil.” This small request led to a staggering series of events that took Braun backpacking through dozens of countries before eventually leaving a prestigious job to found Pencils of Promise, the organization he started with just $25 that has since built more than 250 schools around the world.

The Promise of a Pencil chronicles Braun’s journey to find his calling, as each chapter explains one clear step that every person can take to turn their biggest ambitions into reality. If you feel restless and ready for transition, if you are seeking direction and purpose, this critically acclaimed bestseller is for you. Driven by inspiring stories and shareable insights, this is the book that will give you the tools to make your own life a story worth telling.

*All proceeds from this book will support Pencils of Promise.

Editorial Reviews

Gary Vaynerchuk
“A perfect step-by-step guide to building the life you've always wanted on your own terms. . . Start reading and don't put the book down until you're finished.”
Wendy Kopp
“A vivid, heartfelt account of the power of education and the ability of one person to impact the world.”
Deepak Chopra
"A remarkably inspiring story that shares the essential lessons to creating a life of meaning, passion and purpose."
Jessica Jackley
"Braun's lessons are memorable, accessible, and powerful. This is a must-read, and a must-re-read, and a must-keep-in-view-on-bookshelf kind of book."
United States Senator Cory Booker
“A compelling and singular story filled with universal truths everyone needs to hear.”
Keith Ferrazzi
“Braun takes you on a mesmerizing round-the-world adventure, while sharing the concrete steps necessary to turn your own ideas into reality. He has his finger on the pulse of what's next and when he speaks you should be listening.”
"Braun shares his story of how he started Pencils of Promise, what he learned from Wall Street that has helped him...how he’s leveraged social networks to generate donations, and his best career advice."
"[A] page-turning debut."
Sir Richard Branson
"For anyone with a big dream to transform the world, this book will show you how to get it done."
Success Magazine
“Braun combines his laid-back storytelling style with simple yet sage advice….The Promise of a Pencil is engaging, instructive and inspiring reading for anyone who wants to change his or her life, change the world, or simply feel better about humanity.”
Publishers Weekly
★ 01/06/2014
Despite the subtitle, just a few pages into this exuberant testimony to the power of idealism, readers will realize that Braun is not an ordinary person. Raised in affluent Greenwich, Conn., by parents who embraced noncomformity and charity as sidelines to a good job and six-figure income, Braun struggled to reconcile the materialistic and spiritual. After graduating from Brown University, he worked at a prestigious consulting firm in New York City and at age 25, in the fall of 2008, started Pencils of Promise (PoP), a nonprofit organization that partners with local communities in Asia, Latin America, and Africa to build schools, train teachers, offer scholarships, and supply educational materials. The memoir consists of 30 chapters titled for lessons he learned while developing PoP. Braun has directed the building of more than 150 schools by raising funds and motivating volunteers, as well as drawing attention from national media, wealthy benefactors, humanitarians, and celebrities. In this introspective story, Braun reflects on dangers like a near-shipwreck that brought mortality close, a period of staying out late and drinking too much to mask dissatisfaction with the corporate world, lucrative job offers that threatened his resolve, and overcoming fear of public speaking and soliciting donations. While few wrestle so strongly with the profit-or-purpose dilemma, Braun’s story forcefully presents the advantages of silencing the head and listening to the heart. (Mar.)
Charles Best

“Adam’s story is iconic and riveting. The Promise of a Pencil will inspire the next generation of social entrepreneurs and persuade readers to lead lives of purpose.”
Ann Veneman

"Adam Braun is a leader amongst an emerging generation of change makers who are proving that every person can be a force for positive change. His inspiring work is truly giving children around the world hope and the opportunity for a better future."
Jared Cohen

“With relentless optimism and the idealism of a seasoned traveler, Adam Braun tells an incredibly personal story about his journey from student to philanthropist. What's so extraordinary about Braun's story is how he built a simple gesture of kindness - one pencil for one child --into a movement that has inspired and influenced a new generation of philanthropists and entrepreneurs. And he's just getting started.”
#1 New York Times bestselling author and co-creator of The Buried Life - Ben Nemtin

"Adam nails a truth we live by. The biggest difference between the person who lives their dream and the person who continues to dream is their decision to take the first step--even if the second step is unknown. Honest and entertaining. A great read."
Lauren Bush

“Adam Braun has built a wonderful organization that provides education and a solid start to children around the world. His journey captured here should inspire others to similarly follow their hearts and passions in making the world a better place.”
"[Braun's] trailblazing story takes readers behind the scenes with business moguls and village chiefs, world-famous celebrities and hometown heroes. Driven by compelling stories and shareable insights, this is a vivid and inspiring book that will give readers the tools to unlock their own extraordinary journey of self-discovery."
LinkedIn's "Can't-Miss Business Books for Spring and Summer"
"A playbook for aspiring social entrepreneurs, offering a vision for uniting business and philanthropy around a “for-purpose” mission powered by social media."
Kirkus Reviews
The founder and CEO of the nonprofit Pencils of Promise explains the secret of his success: reliance on social media and "cause marketing." In 2008, Braun left his career as a management consultant to devote himself to global education. His first plan was to build schools for impoverished children in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Encouraged by his initial success, he expanded his goal. "I wasn't just interested in building one school anymore," he writes. "I wanted to build a movement that changed people's perception of charity." In 2013, PoP built its 100th school, in Ghana. The author credits his upbringing for his remarkable success. Although he was raised in an affluent environment, he was never allowed to develop a sense of entitlement. While an undergraduate at Brown University, he joined the Semester at Sea program. His near-death experience during a ferocious storm at sea and the poverty he witnessed backpacking in Asia altered his life. "I now knew my life had a purpose," he writes. The author's choice of a name for the nonprofit was inspired by an experience during his travels; he asked a boy what he would choose if he could have anything he wanted. Despite Braun's prestigious Wall Street job, by his 25th birthday, his life felt empty, so he took on an after-hours project to fundraise for a Cambodian school. Then, with help from a wide circle of friends, he decided to strike out on his own and raised $25,000 to build a school in Laos. He solicited practical and financial support from personal friends and a growing Facebook group, and he was able to elicit backing from the business community. The author skillfully weaves together his personal memoir and the professional challenges he faced. Informative and inspiring but somewhat marred by a self-congratulatory tone.

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Read an Excerpt

The Promise of a Pencil

  • On a sunny autumn afternoon just before my twenty-fifth birthday, I walked into a large bank in my hometown. At the time, I had everything I thought would make me happy—the job, the apartment, the life. My closet was full of impressive corporate clothing, and my business card carried the name of a prestigious company that garnered respect in every room I entered. I looked like a guy on the right path who was most likely walking into the bank to deposit his monthly paycheck.

    But deep down inside, I was no longer enamored with the life I’d created. The only purpose I was serving was self-interest. While I rarely showed it to outsiders, my happiness waned day after day. A restless voice kept me up at night, telling me that until I found meaning, the money wouldn’t matter. It told me that I’d find far more fulfillment if I measured my life in purpose, not profits. And that I didn’t have to keep waiting, that now was the perfect moment to start chasing my biggest dreams.

    It’s strange how you can sometimes feel a yearning that seems bigger than your actual body. That’s how I felt that day. I wanted to be a part of something that extended far beyond my two hands and the possessions they could hold. No matter how scared I was of getting off my safe path, I needed to see what would happen if I finally stepped into the uncharted territory where unbridled ambition and opportunity reside.

    The scariest part was that I wasn’t some successful businessman who’d built and sold companies. I didn’t have a lengthy career to prove I would succeed. Nor did I have millions of dollars in financial backing. I was just a regular guy with $25 who wanted to prove that regardless of age, status, or location, every person has the capacity to change the world. So I used that small amount to open a new account in hopes of one day building a school. Everything that came after was a result of that first step. That leap of faith rippled outward, spanning cultures and continents.

    Since then I’ve immersed myself in the field of global education. I believe that where you start in life should not dictate where you finish. And that no tool can more profoundly unlock a person’s ability to change his or her place in life than access to quality education. The good news is that we have the ability to provide quality education to every child on earth right now. We are not looking for a miracle vaccine or drilling for a hidden resource that may not exist. We have all the tools necessary at this very moment. Yet we still have 57 million children out of school, and millions more who sit in classrooms each day but remain illiterate.

    Education is a complex issue, which requires a complex set of solutions. There is no silver-bullet answer to educating the children of the world, but the global education crisis remains the single most solvable and important human rights issue of our time. The knowledge that it can be solved gives me hope and purpose. But no individual can solve the world’s problems alone. A collective effort is required, and we each have a unique role to play.

    *  *  *

    This is the story about what happens when you acknowledge that there’s more for you to become, and that you don’t have to have enormous resources to make a difference in the world. It’s a story about what can unfold when inspiration strikes and you realize that the rewards of living a purposeful life are rich and lasting. It’s the story of my life (although I have changed the names of several people at their request), but it’s a story that can belong to anyone.

    Each of the thirty chapters in this book is titled with a mantra. These mantras have served as my guideposts as I’ve faced decisions both large and small. They have become my essential truths. I’ve written them with the hope that they will be carried forward, shared with others, and adopted in ways that help you on your own journey as well. Each story stands on its own, but taken together they create a roadmap that I hope will enable you to turn your own dreams into reality.

    If one of these stories ignites something within you, listen to that restless feeling that your head may tell you to ignore but your heart will tell you to pursue. The biggest difference between the person who lives his or her dreams and the person who aspires is the decision to convert that first spark of motivation into immediate action. Take the first small step, then chase the footprints you aspire to leave behind. Every person has a revolution beating within his or her chest. I hope that this book helps you find yours.

  • Meet the Author

    Adam Braun is the Founder of Pencils of Promise, an award-winning for-purpose organization that has built more than 200 schools across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and delivered over 30 million educational hours to children in poverty. PoP was founded with just $25 and has grown under Braun’s stewardship with his unique approach that blends nonprofit idealism with for-profit business principles. He has been a featured speaker at the White House, Clinton Global Initiative, and United Nations. All proceeds from The Promise of a Pencil will go to support Pencils of Promise.

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    The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Not only is this book a quick read, but it is one of the best books I have read. If you are a young person with dreams that you aren't quite certain about and are looking for encouragement, this is the book for you. If you are an older person, looking for hope in the next generation of youth, this is the book for you. If you are lost and don't know what the next step is, join Adam as he wrestles through major decisions and ends up impacting the world and changing lives. Great Read!
    CodyNHawkins More than 1 year ago
    I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking to find inspiration. Whether it be personal, professional, or spiritual guidance (or enrichment) that your are looking for, this book has it. I had not heard of the book before I received it as a book, and I was locked in from the opening quote til the closing remarks. This book is for anyone and everyone, and even those who struggle to find good books will be unable to put it down.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    As all of the other reviews have stated, this is a great and quick read. Very inspirational and would be a great gift for those looking to make a difference in the world. While I enjoyed this book, I wondered how successful Adam would have been without the connections from his brother, Scooter Braun. None the less, the book is worthy of reading and a good lesson for those in the business world today. Earily similar to book suggestion below - Walk in Their Shoes: Can One Person Change the World?
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I stumbled onto this book at exactly the right time. Braun reminds us that we should all focus less on making a living and more on making a life. It wasn't a quick read for me, and I'm glad for that - I think the story and lessons in the book are best digested digested bit by bit, over a few days.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Loved this book! Adam is inspiring and his story provides a digestible yet engaging breakdown of how others can make a difference in the world too. Highly recommend to anyone who wants to make a change in their life and the lives of others!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I started reading this book hoping to just finish the first chapter on a Friday night and I stayed up all night because I couldn't put it down. It's a fast, inspiring read and shares great tips along the way. I finished the book in one weekend. I'm guessing you will too.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    elaineallen More than 1 year ago
    This book is AWESOME! I had seen a news story about this before and was intrigued, but when I saw this book come into the store it flew to the top of my list of 'must reads' and it did not disappoint. It is a quick read and I honestly could not put it down until I was done. It is an amazing story of how one person can make a difference, even with very little resources. It's a great gift for a graduate, too, since they are at a point in their lives where they can make a plan to do something that makes a difference, no matter how big or small
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The best book I have read in years! As a young dreamer myself, I was both captivated and inspired by Adam's story. He shares his journey and invaluable lessons learned along the way in 30 short chapters. The most important message of this book is to live a fulfilled life. I basically attacked this book with a hilighter, and will continue to refer to it throughout my life. A must read!
    francia_olivo More than 1 year ago
    A MUST READ "It only takes one person to make a huge difference" and Adam Braun did just that... he says that "the difference between a lunatic and a leader is that one of them has others who join in his or her pursuit" and in this book not only will the reader learn how to become that leader, but in my case, will follow Adam in his amazing road to change the world even more. This book is highlighted almost as much as my bible lol -sort of- 
    GWorkman More than 1 year ago
    This was one of the most, if not the most inspirational books I have ever read. It was an easy read, one that could not be put down until I finished the entire book. I knew that Pencils of Promise was a wonderful organization doing wonderful things but didn't know the story behind it. After reading the story shared by Adam Braun, I am left with the knowledge of exactly WHY this is such an amazing organization. This book makes you reevaluate your own life, where you have been and where you are going, and inspires you to make changes to ensure that you are living the most purposeful life possible. It encourages selflessness, bravery, commitment, determination, humility, passion, compassion, dreaming, believing, and the desire to make a difference for someone, somewhere, somehow...no matter how big or small. I think everyone should read this book, teens included, for a life changing, uplifting experience. I have gifted one and plan to buy more to share this story with everyone that I know. Thank you Adam for sharing your story with us.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was not only a quick read but it inspired me as well. This is a great book!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    RD3 More than 1 year ago
    This story is an inspirational one for anybody that is interested in making a difference. It is one that proves that anybody can make a difference if they set their mind to it. I recommend this book to anybody that needs some inspiration.