The riveting story of how a young man turned $25 into more than 200 schools around the world and the guiding 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 one of the world’s most prestigious jobs to found Pencils of Promise, the organization he started with just $25 that has since built more than 200 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 your biggest ambitions into reality, even if you start with as little as $25. His 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 you the tools to make your own life a story worth telling.
*All proceeds from this book will support Pencils of Promise.
The Promise of a Pencil INTRODUCTION 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.
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.
"For anyone with a big dream to transform the world, this book will show you how to get it done."
– Sir Richard Branson
“A compelling and singular story filled with universal truths everyone needs to hear.”
– United States Senator Cory Booker
"A remarkably inspiring story that shares the essential lessons to creating a life of meaning, passion and purpose."
– Deepak Chopra, Founder of The Chopra Foundation
“A vivid, heartfelt account of the power of education and the ability of one person to impact the world.”
– Wendy Kopp, Founder of Teach For America and Co-Founder & CEO of Teach For All
“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.”
– Keith Ferrazzi, #1 NY Times bestselling author of Never Eat Alone and Who's Got Your Back
“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.”
– Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia and New York Times bestselling author of Jab, Jab, Jab Right Hook and Crush It!
"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."
– Jessica Jackley, Co-Founder of Kiva
"[An] exuberant testimony to the power of idealism. . . Braun’s story forcefully presents the advantages of silencing the head andlistening to the heart."
– Publishers Weekly starred review and Book of the Week
"[Braun] skillfully weaves together his personal memoir and the professional challenges he faced... Informative and inspiring."
– Kirkus Reviews
“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.”
– Success Magazine
"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."