The Promise of a Pencil


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

My Highlights

regardless of age, status, or location, every person has the capacity to change the world.

I believe that where you start in life should not dictate where you finish.

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.

Rather than assuming everything I had been taught was true, I reversed my approach to challenge all of my existing assumptions and only decided to adopt that which I could believe on my own.

While high school encouraged conformity, college taught me it was okay—even desirable—to question what I thought I knew. It was an awakening. For the first time, I began to explore and celebrate my quirks and unique interests. I read books like On the Road, 1984, and Man’s Search for Meaning, each of which encouraged individuality and discovery of purpose.

True self-discovery begins where your comfort zone ends

I wasn’t sure what my purpose was, but I suddenly knew that it both existed and hadn’t been fulfilled.

The purest joys are available to all of us, and they’re unrelated to status, recognition, or material desires.

Listening intensely is a far more valuable skill than speaking immensely.

For me that pencil was a writing utensil, but for him it was a key. It was a symbol. It was a portal to creativity, curiosity, and possibility. Every great inventor, architect, scientist, and mathematician began as a child holding nothing more than a pencil. That single stick of wood and graphite could enable him to explore worlds within that he would never otherwise access.

As Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Purpose can manifest from so many different places, but it most often appears through the small things that enable us to feel connected to a broader whole.

Sometimes you have to leave things behind to understand their true value.

Compensation comes in many forms, and if you define your expectations up front, you’ll gain far more than just money from the jobs you take.

Find your passion, and you’ll find your strength.

ideas suddenly appear on their own, but they’re actually the product of many small, intersecting moments and realizations that move us toward a breakthrough.

The biggest of dreams often start with small, unreasonable acts.

Our culture glorifies founders and CEOs far too often, when in fact the early adopters and evangelists are actually the ones who make a company’s success possible.

It’s in the moments when you feel most confident that you are most likely to fall flat on your face. I had taken my job at Bain for granted, assuming that I could coast into the next phase based solely on my previous accomplishments. In truth we re-create our reputation every day.


Sometimes you know something in your head, and other times you know it in your heart. The mind delivers logic and reason, but the heart is where faith resides. In moments of uncertainty, when you must choose between two paths, allowing yourself to be overcome by either the fear of failure or the dimly lit light of possibility, immerse yourself in the life you would be most proud to live.Read more at location 1262

In any confrontation, most people focus on the perpetrator and the victim. There is an inherent expectation that had one of these two acted differently, the outcomes of a conflict may have been averted. But the greatest opportunity actually exists within the role of the bystander, the person who neither benefits nor gains from the event itself. When a bystander steps up on behalf of a potential victim, just as that tuk-tuk driver did for me that day on the streets of Kathmandu, he or she becomes the very definition of a hero. We are more often bystanders to conflict than we are victims or perpetrators, and with that comes the recognition that we have a moral obligation to defend others, even when the crosshairs of injustice aren’t pointed at us personally.

Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, has said that an entrepreneur is someone who will “jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.” I wasn’t ready to jump yet, but it was time to start looking for airplane parts.

Become Your Dream.

One of the biggest challenges of the nonprofit space is the false perception that “overhead,” or anything other than your core programs, consists of inefficient, careless spending. But investment in your infrastructure is essential for growth.

When you’re part of something special, you have to cherish it and defend it against many outside distractions and temptations.

In those moments when priorities clash, always stay guided by your values, not your perceived necessities. Necessities exist in a state of mind that will not last, whereas values are transcendent and enduring. I understood that I might fail, but I wouldn’t let it happen because I changed my compass along the way.

The two things I cared most about were passion and talent. Everything else could be taught or learned.

Creating a company means you’re going to go through hell and high water along the way. You need to know the character of the people at your side. Trust is everything.

What seemed like an overnight success was actually years in the making.

biggest opportunities for growth are not found in the midst of success, but in the methods through which we address failure.

By changing the words you use to describe something, you can change how others perceive it.

Rather than thinking of ourselves as nonprofit, we would begin to refer to our work as for-purpose

As the African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It’s the presence of others who are smarter, kinder, wiser, and different from you that enables you to evolve. Those are the people to surround yourself with at all times.

How many times do you have thirty things to do and you focus on the twenty-five that matter least? How many times do you check your email and deal with what’s easy, but not necessarily what’s important? These small wins are easy to achieve, but they won’t move the needle. In the end, the big wins, the most daunting tasks, are the ones that matter.

We all spend so much time putting up walls so that others can’t see our vulnerabilities, but those same walls often enclose us within our own insecurities. By showing my true hand to my board of directors, they helped me turn a weakness that I was avoiding into a newfound strength.

Every child needs several key things to attain a quality education. Most important among these are a safe place to learn, a support system of well-trained teachers and invested parents, and the ability to progress from year to year as the cost of learning increases. We wanted to dedicate ourselves to making these things realities for communities around the world.

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

True motivation is not found within reaching a goal, but rather getting to a place where you can confidently and audaciously move the finish line far off into the distance once again.

Make your life a story worth telling

The key is to think big and then take small, incremental steps forward day by day.

Start by changing the subjects of your daily conversation from the life you are living to the life you aspire to create. By speaking the language of the person you seek to become, you will soon find yourself immersed in the conversations that make you most come alive.

Most of all, I’ll remind them each morning that we make a choice to bring positivity or negativity into the world, and that within every single person there lies an extraordinary story waiting to unfold.

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