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

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476730639
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 02/03/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 119,289
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

About 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.

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.

  • Table of Contents

    Introduction 1

    1 Why be normal 5

    2 Get out of your comfort zone 15

    3 Know that you have a purpose 21

    4 Every pencil holds a promise 31

    5 Do the small things that make others feel big 41

    6 Tourists see, travelers seek 47

    7 Asking for permission is asking for denial 59

    8 Embrace the lightning moments 67

    9 Big dreams start with small, unreasonable acts 75

    10 Practice humility over hubris 85

    11 Speak the language of the person you want to become 93

    12 Walk with a purpose 103

    13 Happiness is found in celebrating others 111

    14 Find the impossible ones 115

    15 Focus on one person in every room 121

    16 Read the signs along the path 131

    17 Create separation to build connection 141

    18 Never take no from someone who can't say yes 147

    19 Stay guided by your values, not your necessities 155

    20 You cannot fake authenticity 161

    21 There is only one chance at a first impression 171

    22 Fess up to your failures 177

    23 Learn to close the loop 185

    24 Change your words to change your worth 193

    25 A goal realized is a goal defined 201

    26 Surround yourself with those who make you better 211

    27 Vulnerability is vital 219

    28 Listen to your echoes 229

    29 If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough 237

    30 Epilogue-Make your life a story worth telling 247

    Acknowledgments 253

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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, 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.