To Top

Meet Houston Kraft of CharacterStrong in Venice

Today we’d like to introduce you to Houston Kraft.

Houston, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was inspired in high school to start a club focused on Kindness, and it didn’t take long to get hooked on the happiness that comes from making others happy. My passion for theater and leadership took me down a lot of interesting idea paths in college: political science, acting, filmmaking, wandering the country doing acts of Kindness.

My senior year, I got connected to a speaker named Tyler Durman, and I told him what I loved doing: storytelling, connecting people, talking about leadership and love, playing silly summer camp games. He became a critical mentor in that first year – helping me understand how to tell meaningful stories and find my way into classrooms and conferences.

The first year, I spoke at 13 events! The following year was 35, then 77. For the past five years, I’ve worked with about 130 schools or events each year. Fast forward to 2019, and I’ve had a chance to talk to humans in over 600 schools or organizations.

In 2016, I partnered with my longtime friend and hero, John Norlin, to create CharacterStrong. I’ve always believed that storytelling can activate inspiration, but we need practical tools to move from inspiration to application. To truly impact school culture, we need to equip students and staff with resources and reminders that allow for an intentional, disciplined pursuit of real, sustainable, habit-forming change.

In less than three years, we have worked with over 750 schools globally to help better teach social-emotional skills, character, and compassion through curricula and trainings and assemblies. We believe the pathway to a better, kinder world is to TEACH it.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Hah! Of course not. I’ve always thought the quote: “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.” That’s just nonsense. I think it’s really the opposite: “Do what you love, and you’ll work harder than ever before because you believe so deeply in the outcome.”

My therapist once told me, “Houston, you can’t be a ten at everything.” I wanted to disagree, but I felt like that would make me be like a seven at getting therapy. She is right: we only have so much time and so many resources. There have been a lot of things sacrificed along the way to building this fun and meaningful mission: relationships and friendships and relentless, exhausting travel schedules and tough conversations.

There will always be sacrifices, and I think I’m slowly (and sometimes painfully) learning about which ones are worth it. I think the worst thing you can do for yourself is to remain ignorant of what you are saying “no” to each time you say “yes.” We must make conscious sacrifices if we are gonna sustain our health and happiness.

All that to say (and as Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own), “It is the hard that makes it great.”

CharacterStrong – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
CharacterStrong is a curriculum and training company that focuses on changing the world through education. My friend came to one of our professional development days once and, as we sat down for dinner, he asked, “What do you think you are the best in the world at?”

That’s a powerful question to any growing company or individual. He said, “From my perspective, you are master almagamators – you bring a whole lot of disparate pieces together into something that is fun and easy-to-understand and apply.”

I’ve always liked that answer. I think CharacterStrong specializes in taking abstract research, data, activities, and concepts around kindness and school culture and social-emotional skills and character… and puts it all into a framework and/or experience that allows for clarity in understanding, competence in execution, and consistency in continued practice.

We have the most engaging curriculum that focuses on character and SEL (social-emotional learning) at the secondary level and our professional development is consistently reviewed as “the best PD in 25+ years of education.” It’s really fun! I think we are onto something as we continue to combine the inspiration of powerful storytelling with the low-burden, high-impact tools for practical action.

John Norlin, my co-founder, was an award-winning classroom teacher for a decade and an administrator at the district level for five years. I have worked with 600 schools globally. Together, we have some really unique insight into how to build school culture thoughtfully and effectively.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
What a fun, loaded word. My definition, for so long, was rooted in busy-ness. The busier I was, the more successful I was.

Then some relationships fell apart in my life, my mom got Stage 4 colon cancer (she’s not 2 years cancer free!), and I was pretty consistently exhausted and overwhelmed. Turns out busy-ness didn’t actually feel like success.

My friend Kyle Scheele once told me, “My definition of success is the number of nights I come home a year smelling like a campfire.” Ughhh I love that. He is the best.

My definition now?
1) The number of genuine smiles I create in a day.
2) The number of nights I’ve laughed too hard.
3) The number of mornings I wake up feeling purposeful and excited.
4) The number of days I share a conversation that teaches me something.
5) The quality of my relationships and my health.

And probably campfires fit in there somewhere.


  • Our Advisory Curriculum is $3,999
  • Our Leadership Curriculum is $999
  • To have me speak at an event is $. We’ll Figure It Out

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in