A little over five years ago, I left a dream job in corporate America to start Pencils of Promise. Money doesn’t always provide meaning, and like many professionals I quickly realized after I started working that my greatest aspirations were no longer rooted in finding success, but in discovering significance.
The book I’ve just released, The Promise of a Pencil: How One Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change chronicles this journey. Each chapter is titled with a lesson learned, and here are five of the essential lessons discovered on the path to meaning.
Consider your legacy
A year after I moved into New York City, I realized that the life I had created only revolved around my own self-interest, and that my happiness would not return until I began living a life of purpose that involved service of others. It’s important to not focus on what you currently possess, but the footprints that you seek to leave behind. Start by considering your legacy, and what you want that to become.
Pursue your purpose
While traveling in college I started asking a simple question to one child in each country I visited. “If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?” It was in India, where the poverty that I witnessed was most severe, that I asked a little boy begging on the streets this question and I found my purpose. His answer: “A pencil”. After that moment, I knew that I wanted to create an organization to improve educational opportunities in developing countries. Once you find that sense of personal purpose, steer your compass directly towards it, pursue it relentlessly, and make sure that each opportunity you undertake somehow advances that personal mission.
Find your avatar
Many people think that they need to start something to have an impact, but the best way to start is by finding someone already doing work that you’re passionate about and support their journey. This will allow you to get your feet wet in the space without taking too big of a risk at first, and enable you to either learn from or mentor someone whose path you hope to one day emulate.
Invest small, but plan big
I started Pencils of Promise by putting just $25 into a bank account. It’s okay to start small, but it’s also important to have big dreams in mind. During the first two years of the organization, 98 percent of the unique donations were in the amount of $100 or less, enabling thousands of individuals to create a huge impact through our organization. But with each little win, I was diligent about moving the perceived finish line far off into the distance where it once again became challenging. The little wins motivate people, but the big aspirational goal will inspire them to never become complacent.
Wear your jersey with pride
When I left my secure job to pursue Pencils of Promise full-time, nearly everyone I knew thought I was crazy. PoP had only built two schools in the developing world, and we didn’t have an office or one single full-time employee. Nevertheless, I had a vision for the organization that could only be advanced if I was willing to speak about my biggest dreams openly with others. But that conversation had to include my fears, my weaknesses and my greatest elements of vulnerability. It’s the moments of adversity that we learn from most. That’s when we develop the deepest relationships, so regardless of whether your jersey has a few scuff marks, make sure you wear it with pride.
The Promise of a Pencil: How One Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change is available in bookstores now.