10 Lessons To Realising Dreams

Pencils Of Promise is a charity organization started by Adam Braun. While the charity was started with only $25, it has expanded with more than 200 schools providing basic education in developing countries across the globe.

This is the story of the charity organization that was started with only a group of supportive friends and humble beginnings and is today one of the leading charities in the world. While hard work is the crux of this success story, it is also about the passion, confidence, inspiration, and gratitude of Braun and his colleagues. 

Adam Braun’s Promise of a Pencil is an account of the inspirational story of the charity organization, and how Braun realized his dream. It is a guide that encourages each and every person to follow dreams, finds their passion, and use their potential to the fullest.

Lesson 1: Follow Your Dreams

Why do people choose the safer path in life? What stops them from being courageous enough to take risks? Moreover, why are they so vary about the expectations and opinions of others?

As a college student standing at the brink of a successful Wall Street career, he backpacked across the globe. He saw widespread poverty and the lack of basic education in many countries, which laid the foundation for his dream. Braun started his charity in 2008 with a simple aim – to raise enough funds to start a school in a Laotian village.

His career was at stake, his family thought that he was wasting his time on an impossible dream. Raising the required $10000to start his school was an unattainable feat. Yet, Braun ignored the criticisms of his family and friends and ploughed through. He achieved his goal in a matter of months.

His dedication and dismissal of others opinions and expectations helped him achieve his goal. He didn’t let others discourage him.

Braun’s dedication to giving it a try at the least led to the fast growth of his organization. By 2013, Pencils of promise was running ground to opening their 100th school in Ghana, despite the fact that at the onset, neither Braun himself nor his friends and family believed that would be able to achieve the success they had.

What did Braun do to achieve his goals?

Firstly, Braun and his team believed in and committed to their idea. Secondly, he allowed himself to follow his dreams and did not delay acting upon them. Therefore, to realise one’s dreams it is crucial to start living them, today!

The Promise of a Pencil
The Promise of a Pencil

Lesson 2: Get Out Of The Comfort Zone

Most people live within their own comfort bubbles. They surround themselves with like-minded people who share opinions, habits, and interests. This sense of comfort brings a sense of safety.

However, this is not the ideal way to live life. One has to push oneself out of the safety of comfort now and then and have experiences that will enrich life.

Adam decided to take a semester off to travel at the brink of a successful Wall Street career. Most of his friends and family advised him against taking such a risky step, especially since it wouldn’t help his career in any way.

However, Braun’s travels gave him fresh insights that changed his life.

It is not easy to get out of the comfort bubble. It requires a high level of optimism and some amount of risk-taking. Additionally, pondering over incessantly about the things that go wrong will thwart new ideas and one will never experience fresh insights.

While Adam was travelling in Guatemala, he met a local who offered to give him a place to stay in his house for a few weeks in exchange for teaching his family English. While Adam had his doubts over the safety of the proposition, his eventual agreement to accept the offer enabled him to make new friends and learn about the Guatemalan culture.

The lesson here is, staying in the comfort one never leads to valuable experiences, and one never learns to deal with unfamiliar situations.

Lesson 3: Follow Your Intuition

Intuitions are strong feelings, and most often powerful advisers. Intuitions help us realize what is good much before we, ourselves do.

Braun’s realization of his dream was triggered by an epiphany he experienced while he was at a pianist concert at the New York Philharmonic. The passion that he witnessed in the pianist’s performance, inspired him to write the mission statement for Pencils of Promise that very night.

Intuitions are also central to providing solutions to a dilemma. Intuitions work on a subconscious level, showing certain signs of what one must do.

As Braun began his work on his charity, he was working as a consultant. He usually worked during his free time. Soon his supervisors noticed his lack of commitment to his job and asked him to choose between his job and his dream. That day, on his way home, he came across a cardboard box with ‘Become your dream’ written on it. The timing of seeing the graffiti was perfect. It was the push he needed to make his decision.

Intuitions guide people and give confidence. One should listen to that inner voice more often and follow that intuition.

Lesson 4: Don’t Be Afraid To Start Small

Most often, the enormity of following one’s dream puts a stopper in realizing them. However, one should remember that every big accomplishment starts with a small step, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the beginning. These small steps can hold the power to change lives.

While Braun was backpacking through India, he asked a small boy what was it that he wanted most in the world. The boy answered – a pencil. Adam gave the boy one of his own pencils, making the child incredible happy.

What seemed like a small cheap item to Adam meant the world to the little boy – a fulfilment of his biggest wish. The experience had a profound effect on Adam – profound enough that he named his charity from the inspiration he got.

Starting with small steps also means that one doesn’t need a lot of money to effect positive change. Many successful entrepreneurs have worked within limitations and started small, slowly building their ideas over time.

Braun too started small by opening an account with $25 in the name of his organization. He soon began raising funds by asking family and friends, collected a veritable amount that he used for his charity.

Dreams, at the outset, often seem like unreachable goals. The trick is to start with small steps and not be afraid to take them.

Lesson 5: Remain Confident

Difficulties and hurdles are inevitable while one follows their dreams. During such times, one has to remain confident and believe in their ideas and in themselves. This will ensure that one does not give up when the going gets tough.

Braun, in the course of following his dream, encountered one difficulty that changed his life’s course drastically. On his way to Africa, his ship got caught in a severe storm. It damaged the ship badly and the passengers were scared for their lives. However, Adam did not believe that he would die that day. He believed that he has a purpose to fulfil and he had to live on to fulfil it.

It was this sense of confidence that helped him remain calm, help others around, and emerge stronger from this experience.

However, confidence in one’s dreams and oneself isn’t enough. One has to act confident and show the world that one is in control. A show of confidence demonstrates to others that one is not afraid or weak, especially in a dangerous situation.

While Adam was in Nepal, he found himself in the midst of a huge political demonstration, where the protestors were agitated and ready to attack. Though he was afraid, he got out of his taxi and confidently walked away. Though he had no idea where to go, it was probably his confidence that saved him that day.

One has to have the confidence to change the manner one confronts obstacles, even if it means to pretend that one is confident.

Lesson 6: Use The Right Language

Language, like confidence, is vital to success. Therefore, one has to use it to their advantage to be successful.

Choosing one’s words carefully is crucial while talking to supporters, as sometimes, even seemingly harmless words can backfire and affect people negatively.

When Pencils of Promise started, Adam often referred to it as a non-profit organization. However, some of his managers had an aversion to the negative connotation of the prefix. When he realised this, he changed it to ‘for-purpose’, thereby making the connotation positive and increasing interest.

Language can also be used to making ideas concrete. When an idea is still nascent, inside one’s mind, it can be hard to develop. However, simply voicing them out loud or writing them down can help increase the chances of actually realising them.

After a trip to Ghana, Adam was playing with the idea of expanding his charity in Africa. However, during a speech at a fundraiser, he ended up spontaneously promising the audience that if they could raise donations worth $1 million at the gala, the proceeds would be used to open a school in Ghana. Voicing out his nascent idea, led to an overwhelming response and they were easily able to reach the goal of a million dollars. Thus, the first school in Ghana was opened.

Lesson 7: Inspire Others

No dream can be truly realized without the help of others. Hence recruiting the right people the right way is crucial.

One gets only one chance to influence people to follow their cause. The first impression should be good, and the listeners should feel important, especially while addressing a large crowd.

Braun employs the idea of  ‘one person, one thought’ throughout his presentations. This practice involves establishing eye contact with one person for as long as one thought is discussed. Once that thought is done, move on to establishing eye contact with another person, and so on.

This method helps in getting people to feel that they are being addressed directly. Their chances of understanding the cause and getting inspired due to the few seconds of personal interaction are higher.

While addressing a crowd, the number of people addressed is not as important as the number of people within that crowd who actually listen. It’s better to have one inspired and dedicated person, rather than a hundred who don’t care.

For example, during the early days, Adam and his friends would hold presentations at universities all over the country. For one such presentation, they had booked a huge classroom considering expected numbers. However, just one person showed up. Rather than cancel or reschedule, Braun though frustrated, decided to present irrespective of the poor attendance.

His decision paid off. The single attendee eventually became a dedicated and valued volunteer of the organization.

Lesson 8: Thank People For Their Support

Thanks’ is a magical word. It mends, heals, and strengthens relationships. It is as important to share joys and sorrows, appreciate, and thank the people one works with as it is with family. Moreover, it is essential to remember that one gets treated the way one treats others.

Braun dedicated the first school the organization opened to his grandmother. A holocaust survivor, she had escaped to the USA with nothing and built a safe life for her children and grandchildren. Braun’s grandmother was moved to tears when she saw her name engraved on the school door. Additionally, seeing his grandmother’s joy, made Braun happy too.

In another example, Braun remembered that two years into starting the organization, he had not personally thanked the first stranger who had donated a large sum of money to the organization. He wrote a belated note thanking the stranger.

The stranger was so happy to receive the note of thanks and due to his interest in the organization, he arranged for a new office to be built for the organization at no cost at all.

Lesson 9: Recognize Weaknesses And Learn From Mistakes

Weaknesses and failure are inevitable components of being human. Neither can be completely avoided. Hence, understanding weaknesses and learning from mistakes is advantageous. 

Analysing mistakes shows what can and cannot work, and knowing weaknesses can help one avoid mistakes.

Adam once got a mail from a colleague in Nicaragua that he had been robbed. Surprisingly, Adam, instead of enquiring after the person’s well being, first informed him that the organization wouldn’t be able to reimburse the losses. The colleague was really upset, especially since he hadn’t asked Braun for any money. When Braun realised his mistake, he vowed to never repeat the mistake of placing the importance of money ahead of the well being of his staff.

Understanding and learning from his mistake enabled him to develop a better leadership style.

In another example, during the early years, Braun never asked anyone for money directly or personally. This was not a principle he followed, but a fear of rejection. When he realized this weakness, he confessed it to the board of directors, who helped him overcome it.

They helped him practice asking for others money and gave him advice on how to handle such situations.

Lesson 10: Take Time To Make Decisions

Following one’s dreams requires making tough decisions. Doubts ad moments of uncertainty, especially in the wake of having an easier way out are inevitable. During such times, one has to think of both, the short-term benefits and obstacles as well the ones that could arise in the long run.

Just as Braun’s charity organization had started, he received an attractive job offer – one that would give him a very high salary and many personal benefits, however, one that he would have to leave his dream for.

At the moment of making his decision and accepting the offer, his friends advised him to think of his principles and think of what he loved to versus what he needed. Thus Braun chose to stick to what he loved doing and rejected the job offer.

Making such a decision also requires a person to be in the right frame of mind, simply to be able to make the right decision. For example, routines tend to thwart gaining new perspectives, and judgements can get impaired. Hence, it is essential to take breaks and think of creative ways of changing one’s routine to gain newer perspectives.


Realizing one’s dream isn’t an easy task. However, with the right amount of confidence, staying committed to the dream, listening to one’s intuition, and getting out of the comfort zone one can achieve goals.

Additionally, one should not be afraid to make risky decisions to make dreams a reality. Starting with small steps, inspiring people and thanking people for their help goes a long way in succeeding.

Adam Braun’s struggles, his dedication to pursuing his dream and belief in his own abilities to make them a reality are a great example for all to follow.