Adam Braun On His New Book, Surviving A Near-Death Experience + Justin Bieber As A Role Model

Pencils of Promise Guatemala May 2011

Adam Braun has many roles. You might know him as the founder of the amazing school-building org Pencils of Promise. You might know him as Scooter Braun‘s little brother.  You might not know him at all! Or you might know him as one of the loudest and proudest voices of our generation to create impact.

In his page-turning debut book,”The Promise of a Pencil,” people will gain insight into how one entrepreneur left his job working for Bain & Company and launched one of the most recognizable charities in the country.

Final cover high res #PoPbook

With just $25, Adam began the journey of creating schools around the world! Now with over 200 schools, Adam is opening up in his new book about the lessons he’s learned along the way. You know that saying “Learn something new every day” ?Welp, it really applies to Adam’s book, as each chapter offers an interesting tidbit and answers questions like, “Why be normal?”

I had the opportunity to interview Adam and we talked about his near-death experience on a ship, how India changed his life and why Justin Bieber is a positive example of giving back.

ACT: With endorsements from the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Deepak Chopra, your book already has a lot of buzz around it. What are you most excited for readers to learn from your book?

ADAM: I am most excited for people to learn the essential steps to turn something as small as $25 into a full-time career, based on what most makes individuals come alive. Oftentimes people feel the only time they can create something really meaningful and significant is if they start with a bunch of money, influence and power. This book provides any individual with the steps that they can take to unlock their sense of purpose and then use that passion and conviction to create something significant.

ACT: In three words, how would you describe “The Promise of a Pencil?”

ADAM: Inspiring, relatable and fun.

Adam and Scooter Braun
Adam (on the right) and his brother, Scooter, helping out in Guatemala.

ACT: What prompted you to begin writing a book?

ADAM: I found myself answering the same questions from people whose conversation I really enjoyed. Those questions were usually about how to get unstuck from your current position or how to find the thing that makes you most come alive or even how to start and launch a business to success.

So, finally after having these conversations, I realized that after five years of building Pencils of Promise, I wish someone gave me a book that explained everything that I have learned and all of the lessons that any aspiring entrepreneur or individual, whose trying to create their own project would need to know. So I started to write down all the lessons, which ended up being 30 lessons, so I started to write a chapter for each lesson.

ACT: How long did it take you to write the book?

ADAM: There was a planning process of a couple months, but the writing took several months as I was traveling last year. I took a sabbatical and did an around-the-world trip, so I brought a computer in my backpack. The book was written in Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and the States.

ACT: Where was the first place you traveled to that launched your passion?

ADAM: The first place that really opened my eyes was India. It was on the streets of India where I asked a boy if he could have anything in the world what would he want, and he responded, “A pencil.” That’s where I realized that so much of the world lives so differently from the type of life that I had taken for granted.

ACT: Every book sold will provide one day of education to a child. Where are your main schools and how did you decide these would be the areas you dedicate your time to?

ADAM: Pencils of Promise works in four different countries: Laos, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Ghana. We selected our countries [based] on things like need, political stability, the accessibility and making sure that there were active partnerships with education ministries and the communities themselves.

Pencils of Promise School

These students stand in front of the first classroom created in Vodzakpo, Ghana.

ACT: While many of your friends were heading off to Harvard, you decided to launch your own nonprofit. What advice do you have for the younger generation who want to pave their own path in life and take on the impossible?

ADAM: That’s a great question. There are a lot of different chapter titles I can pick from. Often times we fear the discovery of new things that can happen outside of the comforts of what we know. First, get out of your comfort zone where you begin to discover what you are and who you are. Second, never take “no” from someone who can’t say “yes.” Third, make your life a story worth telling, which is the final chapter of the book. One day people are going to tell your story and you should be proud of the story they are going to tell.

ACT: You found your sense of purpose as your semester-at-sea ship was struck by a rogue wave. Can you talk a little bit about it?

ADAM: I was on a study-abroad program, and, 13 days into our voyage, our ship was struck by a 60-foot rogue wave that shattered the glass where the navigational equipment was being held, so we lost power to our engine. I had an incredibly life-altering experience because I thought I was going to die. It forced me to really consider what my legacy would be if I perished. And also to question why I existed in the first place, which led me to realize [that] I want to live a life that improves the well-being of others. Second, that I had a purpose, and my job was to go out and find out what that purpose was.

Justin Bieber
Adam and Justin Bieber strike an awkward pose!

ACT: Many celebrities put their name to organizations, but don’t necessarily get out there and do the dirty work. Sophia Bush and Justin Bieber have been really a big part of the Pencils of Promise movement. What has this support meant to the organization?

ADAM: One of the really important parts about Pencils of Promise that we strive to create from the start, was that we would make it an organization that any person, regardless of age, status or location, could feel deeply connected to. So that means we have 13-year-olds in Wisconsin who feel like a big part of Pencils of Promise, retirees in Nebraska and also world-famous celebrities. Their support has meant a tremendous amount because it has helped shine a spotlight on the great work the organization is doing and also serves as a positive example for young people who see them as role models.

Sophia Bush Pencils or Promise
Sophia Bush is pencil happy at a Pencils of Promise event in 2013.

ACT: What is your proudest accomplishment so far?

ADAM: My proudest accomplishment was building the first school. Because it felt so insurmountable, it felt like it was such a hurdle for a young person to find a way with their group of friends to build one school. Since then, I have tried to build an organization that can enable that feeling of immense pride for anyone else. We have broken ground on more than 200 schools — I don’t see them as 200 schools I’ve built, I see them as one school I built and 199 other schools that other people have created by fulfilling their sense of purpose and passion.

ACT: Anything else you wanted to mention?

ADAM: I think just the idea of writing a powerful phrase on your wall is really powerful, and for young people you can never underestimate the power of one great sentence in your life. And so, I really hope that when people pick up the book, even if they just look at the table of contents, those 30 phrases help them find the path that they want to live.

POP School
Pencils of Promise students on their way to a new school in Guatemala.

Photos: Pencils of Promise and Facebook

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