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

Famous french writer Marcel Proust, who was the author of the 3000 page masterpiece literary work entitled “Remembrance of Things Past“ said one day that : The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” 

But who can guide us in that voyage and how to have new eyes ?

Marcel Proust’s sentence epithomizes the main reason that led Adam Braun (in collaboration with Carlyle Adler) to write the book The Promise of a Pencil – How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change .

The book’s main author, Adam Braun,  has a quite amazingstory. He was born in America in a upper-middle class family (his father is a dentist). When he was a teenager he began working summers at hedge funds, which quickly lead him to a successful Wall Street career. He graduated from Brown University, and for a while he travelled. In one of his trips as a college student, he met a young boy begging on the streets of India who would change his life. When Braun asked the boy what he wanted most in the world, he simply answered “a pencil.” Braun gave up a promising Wall Street career a few years after, by leaving University,  to create an ONG  entitled Pencils of Promise, dedicated to educate children living below the poverty threshold. The ONG grew to have in the present, more than 200 schools across various countries located in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Pencils of Promise

In his book, Adam Braun recounts his extraordinary deed which makes “The Promise of a pencil” a quite inspiring book. However, from my point of view, it has one or two little flaws that I will address later on. The book is slightly similar to “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho,. Actually Paulo Coelho is an influence thoroughly acknowledged by the author, as in an interview given by Adam Braun, the author mentions how the Brazilian writer has been a great source of inspiration for his life and work.

In my opinion the book has two objectives, which are totally achieved. One of these is to show the readers how it is possible to have more purpose and passion in their lifes. The author takes this job very seriously and mentions alternative texts dedicated to the same goal, such a book by Viktor E. Frankl entitled : Man’s Search for Meaning , which tells the story of a psychiatrist that survived more than two years in Nazi concentration camps.

The second objective is to give the readers a sort of “road-map” to transform ideas into a practical reality. The book is structured around 30 very clear ideas, not all of them very innovative,  but presented with a fresh flavour combined with stories of his life or family. One very good advice is to never take a no from someone who can´t say yes:  accepting a no in that conditions is, at least, a waste of energy and resources. Other advice (very obvious and correct) is to get out of our comfort zone as without that it is almost impossible to accomplish something or really grow as a human being.

Screenshot of website of NGO “Pencils of Promise”

Adam Braun tries to show in his book the pros and the cons of his choices. However, from my point of view, that attempt only has a partial success. I really agree with the author’s point of view that humankind and each one of us as individuals, should take more action and risk more, following up on the idea of having a life with more purpose and passion. However, I think he talks too lightly about taking risks like quitting a job for activities in search of more meaning life, by ignoring the social and economical constraints that most of us have to deal with.

However, with or without the safety net like the one the author probably had, and which enabled him to take the wanted steps to have a more meaningful life, I think the message conveyed in his book is very powerful: he could have had an ordinary and very comfortable life, but instead, he choose to have an impact in the world. On top of his admirable choices, his path was also successful. In many ways his example can be a taken as a model that we can follow.

I don´t know what kind of success we would have if we tried the same “road” of Adam Braun. Yet, I believe it is a “road” that we should try to “walk through”. And if we don’t have the social net that enables us to do it with safety, we still take it, perhaps by moving through small decisions that will lead us slowly and steadily to that direction. But we should, definitely “walk the road” of filling our lives with more meaning and passion.

After working for more than a decade in a University, I arrived to a moment where I did the following question to myself: is this all that I want for my life? As a College professor, I  have a comfortable life, but I lack more meaning and purpose in my life. I am trying to “walk” the same “road” of Adam Braun, but taking a different approach, as  I don´t plan to quit in the near future of my job as university professor. 🙂

By reading this book one feels inspired to achieve more passion and purpose in one’s life. Even though the background of Adam Braun isn´t similar to most readers that doesn´t mean you can’t learn cool and useful stuff in his book. You can learn more about Adam Braun’s fantastic story if you watch this video of a talk he gave at TEDxColombia:

I finish with the inspirational quote used by the author to open his book:   “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman