Book Review: The Promise Of A Pencil by Adam Braun


“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  – Howard Thurman

This is the opening quote for the book “The Promise of a Pencil”. As soon as I opened this book and read that line, I was intrigued. This book was recommended to me by one of the board members at the nonprofit I work for and I am so thankful that she did. The book chronicles Adam’s journey on finding his passion, and at first not knowing what his real passion was. This is how I feel about my journey in becoming a volunteer manager. I had no idea this was my passion, and it found me.

To give you a bit of a back ground on the book, Adam Braun started the nonprofit Pencils of Promise with $25 back in 2008 at the age of 24. Five years later Pencils of Promise has now built more than 200 schools around the world in areas of poverty within developing nations. His story tells how “an ordinary person can create extraordinary change.”

Below are a list of principals from the book that resonated with me in my career and why:

Page 36“I had always thought that I was too young to make a difference. I had been told that without the ability to make a large donation to a charity, I couldn’t help change someone’s life. But through the small act of giving one child one pencil, that belief was shattered. I realized that even big waves start with small ripples.”

This is so true – I see everyday how small acts of kindness can make a huge impact on people’s lives. You don’t have to be a millionaire to change the world, you can change the world by the way you treat people in your everyday life.

Page 116 – “Every conversation began with the same question: “What do you love doing most?” Once I understood that person’s passion, we could craft a way for him or her to use it to support PoP. Through that approach, our volunteer force expanded rapidly.”

This is the model I try to follow when I meet with new volunteers. Find out their skills, what are their goals, and what led them to want to volunteer? My goal is to help guide them to their passion.

Page 196 – “I knew that the only way to win the respect of our for-profit peers would be to wed our values and idealism to business acumen. Rather than thinking of ourselves as nonprofit, we would begin to refer to our work as for-purpose.”  

Wow, what a concept and I love this statement and I am proud to say I work “for-purpose” not for a nonprofit.

Page 244 “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female elected head of state in Africa, said, “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

This statement really resonated with me, because I feel like I am struggling right now to figure out what is the next step for me and what do I want to accomplish in these next 40 years? It’s scary but also exciting. Like Adam, I believe I am an ordinary person who can create extraordinary change, what that will be, I look forward to figuring it out, and hopefully impacting lives along the way.

Me with Blake Mycoskie -- completely star struck!

Me with Blake Mycoskie — completely star struck!

Here are some other books that I recommend reading if you are like me, and want to change the world in small and big ways.

“Start Something that Matters” – by Blake Mycoskie, Chief Shoe Giver, TOMS – I admit it, I am a TOMS addict. I have over 12 pairs. I was fortunate enough to meet and have dinner with Blake in 2010 when he spoke on campus of UW-Green Bay.  I was completely in awe of him. His book tells the TOMS story and how it started out of his little apartment in CA to what it is today. An amazing story of true entrepreneurism at its finest.

“The Third Wave – A Volunteer Story” – by Alison Thompson – This book was given to me by a dear friend and volunteer. This book is the story of how volunteering changed Thompson’s life. A great book to give to that special volunteer in our life.