Danielle LaBriola of Crafting Character: “Always focus on giving more value than you take in”

Always focus on giving more value than you take in. Trust that if you follow this rule, it will all work out. I knew this rule before I started my business, and it was beautiful to watch how it always seems to work. Don’t worry about collecting value, worry about distributing value. As part of […]

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Always focus on giving more value than you take in. Trust that if you follow this rule, it will all work out. I knew this rule before I started my business, and it was beautiful to watch how it always seems to work. Don’t worry about collecting value, worry about distributing value.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle (“Dani”) LaBriola.

Dani LaBriola is a mom, attorney, and creator of the Crafting Character series. www.craftingcharacter.com. She began her career as a lawyer, but took a detour for the last 11 years to raise her boy/girl twins. After making a few parenting mistakes of her own, including focusing too heavily on her kid’s happiness and success, Dani realized that raising kind kids who focus on serving others was her number one priority. In order to instill character in a fun and engaging way for her kids, Dani designed systems that use books and stuffed animal plushies to not only teach a particular character trait, but also help them make it a habit so that they think, feel, and act differently. Dani claims that “the 5-system-series help children become good citizens who are kind, grateful, and charitable so that they can be their best selves and serve others.” The books have won multiple book awards, including first place at the 2020 CIPA EVVY book competition, and have been recently recognized as “One of the Best Children’s Books on Wellness” by mindbodygreen. Dani was recently featured as the “Hero of the Month” for March 2020 by ParentingOC and has been covered in media including GoodNewsNetwork, USpireLife, mbg, The List TV (out soon!) and others.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Well, I am a lawyer by trade, but stopped practicing law after my husband and I had problems starting our family. Once we were finally able to have kids, I vowed that I would be the best mom I could be. I read parenting books, took my kids on all sorts of excursions, made sure we were using every small muscle group that we were supposed to be using, and focused on creating a lifetime of happy memories all within a series of just a few years. I thought we were on the right track.

Then, one day one of them woke up and said, “Mom, what fun do you have planned for me today?” At that moment it hit me that in my quest to raise happy kids, I was raising entitled kids. I knew I needed to make a change, so I called my mom who has her PhD in psychology to brainstorm. She said she wasn’t going to tell me how to raise my children, but that it seemed that I was focusing on my kid’s happiness more than their kindness. That is all it took to send me on my researching whirlwind which eventually lead me to the best kept secret in parenting! If you pivot your parenting focus from your children’s success and happiness to their kindness and service to others, not only will you raise better kids who are caring and considerate, but you will also help them become happier, healthier, and more successful! Character is the secret to raising kids that thrive!

There is one other important step in helping our kids create a change that lasts, and that is habit creation. There are so many great books about kindness, gratitude and charity, however, simply reading these books to our children isn’t going to produce a noticeable change. Children must practice what they are learning, complete daily acts, and create new habits so this can stick and become their new normal. Crafting Character includes both of these important steps (teaching and habit creation). As parents, we must provide our kids with the tools to take on this world, make the change that is needed, and become the people they were meant to become!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Well, there have been quite a few miracles on this project and I think those stories are always interesting! This business is fueled on prayer and hard work. There have been days when whatever problem I am facing seems insurmountable. Then I pray about it, and many times the problem is resolved, sometimes within hours. For example, one time I didn’t know how I was going to transport some of my products to my fulfillment center. I prayed about it and that night at a restaurant, a man walked up to me, tapped me on the shoulder, and told me, “I don’t know why I am supposed to tell you this, but I transport products.” I almost cried.

Another time I couldn’t find a fulfillment center that I could afford. That day, I called my website designer and asked if he knew of anyone in the fulfillment industry. He then said “Well, that’s funny because my wife runs a non-profit for special needs adults, and they are trying to break into the fulfillment area. Want to talk to her?” I could go on and on with these stories. It’s pretty crazy.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Man! I think I am still so new at running this business that the funny stories of the dumb mistakes that I have made aren’t that humorous yet! I think those mistakes become funny once you know that you are where you want to be and that you aren’t messing everything up! Once I am able to reach all the kids that I want to reach, I bet I will have tons of funny stories and be able to look back and see more humor!

With that said, I guess the most ironic mistake that I have made is that I forgot to apply the very tools that I am teaching kids and almost quit on my dream because of it! For three days, I woke up and started crying. I didn’t want to let my kids see me cry, but I couldn’t keep the tears in. I felt that my dream was coming to an end, and I was heartbroken and confused. Amazon was having a glitch, and we couldn’t get our products up on their platform because of some technical issue, the staff at our fulfillment center was furloughed due to COVID-19, and we had a whole slew of other problems that seemed pretty insurmountable at the time. We were also almost out of money.

As I sat behind our couch with tears streaming down my face, I felt an arm come around my shoulders. It was my 11-year-old daughter. She is a part of this business with her twin brother, and they have been instrumental in the design of the stuffed animals, editing of the books, running the huggability committee that accesses the stuffed animals, and they are currently designing accessories to go with the stuffed animals to make them individualized for kids.

As she sat with her arm around me, she gently reminded me that she was watching me and that if I gave up on my dream, I would be sending her the message that she could give up on her dreams later in life (she is 11 going on 40). She then told me that she had the strategy to get me back up and running. She instructed me to go upstairs and make a gratitude list and then go spend the day completing kind acts for others.

Not only was she right (I did as I was reminded and within hours was back at my business), but it was at that moment that I remembered why I was helping kids to develop these habits: because they work! My daughter had the tools to help herself (and others) combat even the lowest of days because she had learned and created habits and had them in her toolbox ready for use! That is my entire goal with these systems. For kids to learn and use these tools, and then to share them with others.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

We are making a social impact in a few ways. We are helping parents and children adopt a “service-oriented” way of thinking and acting. We are helping children transform into good citizens that are grateful, kind, and charitable so that they can be their best selves and serve others. Many of these traits are super contagious, so we are hoping that it spreads like wildfire and becomes the new norm. We want kids to realize that serving one another and supporting each other does NOT deplete or take away from them in any way. Instead, being kind and giving to others has many direct benefits and positively affects your health, confidence, happiness, popularity, and success.

We are also practicing what we preach and supporting multiple non-profit organizations. We utilize a fulfillment center called the Roland Center that provides jobs for special needs adults. Not only that, but we also donate to five charities that are related to the character traits of our five systems! The Loving Bug donates to The Children’s Craniofacial Association. The Charitable Chick donates to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (I wrote that story about a boy who has Type 1 diabetes to raise awareness since my son Jack has Type 1). The Grateful Gobbler gives to Meals on Wheels, Environmental Ed donates to One Tree Planted, and Patriotic Pete gives to The Fisher House Foundation.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Honestly, it’s hard to choose just one individual. We receive messages all the time from parents who are seeing a difference in their children within days of implementing our systems. We get messages about children who won’t put their stuffed animal down, of kids who rush to read the book every single night, kids who wake up with a new energy because they are so excited to choose their act for the day, and of parents who are using the systems themselves and feel it is life-changing.

The cool thing is that once you start completing acts, there are reinforcers that help you keep going. There is a physical reaction that takes place in your body when you are kind to someone else. It feels awesome, and once you get to experience it consistently, you want more. Plus, these kids are getting the visual reinforcement on their stuffed animal tool as it grows its missing 14 pieces over the 14 days of acts. Additionally, their parents are proud of them, and they can feel it, and they get encouragement from third-parties who are benefitting from the kind acts!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1. First, recognize the need for change and talk about It. We must admit to ourselves that there is a problem and that our kids are not thriving as a group. We must get the conversation out there and talk about it openly. Very few kids are thriving under the current way of parenting. We can do better, but we must be open to a pretty radical change in the way we are thinking. Take the time to look at the research on becoming a kind, giving, grateful person and let that really sink in.

2. Second, be the change. Be willing to take a risk and be the first family, community leader, teacher, or politician in your area to put this change into action. It’s hard to be first. I know, as parents, we often worry that our child might be the only one being kind or doing the right thing, and they might be picked on for it. We need to be brave and realize that someone must start this change and once you do, it will spread. These traits are contagious. Once a few kids start focusing on giving, doing kind acts, becoming grateful, and lifting their peers up instead of pushing them down, the rest of society will start to follow.

3. Third, encourage others to do it and publicize your kind acts and giving. Encourage your schools to recognize the need for change and teach them that true success is built on a foundation of character. Invite your friends to do it with you. This is a big change. A change from a self-centered focus to one of service. But we must take action now because if we continue to wait and keep up our current state of affairs, the next generation is not going to thrive, fulfill their purpose, or help our planet!

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

A great leader leads by example and is confident enough to think of others before herself. That person is driven, goal-oriented and hard-working, but also honest, kind, and serves others. Successes are shared with the team and not tucked away and claimed for oneself. A good leader doesn’t need to micromanage the team and invites them to openly share their creative ideas and work. A good leader recognizes he or she is being used by God as a tool for a specific purpose and always goes back to the Big Boss for guidance and wisdom. A good leader intentionally works to better themselves and always tries to bring others along in that pursuit with transparency and inclusion.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. A good business person thinks in the opposite way that a good lawyer does. Business is all about making fast decisions with 60% of the information. You don’t want to wait to have all the information, and you need to be able to pivot constantly. In law, you want to prepare every last detail to make sure you have covered everything 100% and are convinced you will absolutely win. I could out-prepare other lawyers and work harder and almost always guarantee success. When I applied that same logic to my business, I had a rude awakening. I remember sitting in my car dumbfounded when this realization hit me the first time. Hard work does not guarantee success in business. That is only one of many factors that contribute to a successful business.

2. When you own a business, your work is never done, so decide how you are going to spend your time each day and then stick to it. You must decide what your priorities are in life and then create some boundaries that help you live in accordance with those priorities. When we were close to rolling out Crafting Character, I was often putting in 20-hour days. I thought that as soon as we rolled out, things will slow down, and I will make up for lost time with my family and friends. However, when we rolled out, the business needed more of my time, not less.

My family is my #1 priority. I started this business not for money, but to help kids become better people. If my kids aren’t doing well or are struggling because I am not spending enough time with them, what is the point of my business? I have to keep balance and know that my time with my family is non-negotiable. That might mean slower business growth and I have to be ok with that, otherwise, I won’t have staying power. If you make small exceptions to this rule, it will snowball, so be careful. You only intend to skip one workout or one school drop off, and then you look up, and you have missed a month of them!

3. Your mental state is very important in running a successful business. You must be very intentional with your thoughts. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you must be able to dream larger than life, visualize your dream coming true, and believe that it will happen. At the same time, you need to immediately and calmly pivot from that up-in-the-clouds, dream state-of-mind to the reality of the daily problems and constant disappointments of running a business. I found this to be a challenging and exhausting roller coaster! It’s hard to hold onto your dreams and believe they will come true when you are feeling bombarded with “growth opportunities.” I decided to start calling the disappointments or failures “opportunities for growth.” It made me laugh when I did it and actually helped me to pivot more easily between the two mindsets.

4. Be attached to your mission, but let the rest go. Business is about being flexible and not taking things personally. You are constantly testing the market, collecting information, consulting experts, and then revising what you have already created to meet the needs and demands of your market. Clearly understand the value you want to provide to your customers and the mission of your project and make sure to stick to those, but be open to how you can improve or change your products to better serve your customers. You just don’t have all the answers.

5. Always focus on giving more value than you take in. Trust that if you follow this rule, it will all work out. I knew this rule before I started my business, and it was beautiful to watch how it always seems to work. Don’t worry about collecting value, worry about distributing value.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want to inspire a movement of character development in children where they focus on kindness and service to others instead of their own individual success and happiness. I want this way of thinking to become the new norm and for parents to have an “A-HA” moment. Essentially, I would like for them to realize that what we are doing currently isn’t working….at all.

Currently, we are teaching our kids that their individual success and happiness are the most important things in life. By doing this, I believe that we are unintentionally sending a message that they must reach the #1 spot to be truly worthy and that they should always focus on themselves first. This way of thinking is training kids to push each other down in order to reach the top coveted spot so that they can win and be successful. It’s leading to kids who are defining themselves by a grade or award they receive on the field. Although we like to claim there is space for everyone at the top, the reality is that there usually is only one #1 spot at the top. Therefore, this type of messaging is leading to a group of kids who are anxious and depressed because their identify is tied to how they do on a test or how they play that day in a game and this can change from day to day. It’s also pretty stress inducing because, oftentimes, the result has to do with other factors outside their control, including how others around them performed comparatively. I believe this is leading to a group of kids who are not taking healthy risks and whose friendships are not as supportive as they could be.

If we can spark a movement where people recognize that “service to others” and kindness should be the focus and not their own individual success and happiness, we will end up raising kids who are confident, happy, and successful. They will have a foundation of character and their identify will be based on who they truly are as a person, not what they achieved the day prior.

This group of kids will know that even if they get a B on a test, they are good and kind people down deep and will be able to pull on memories and examples that support that thinking. They will value their effort and intent which will lead to healthy risk-taking because they won’t have their entire identity based upon the achievement and successes of that day.

By making this pivot we can help raise a generation of kids who can help each other reach their dreams because when focusing on kindness, giving, effort and intent, there is plenty of room for everyone’s success. It will be a generation of kids who will have the tools in their toolbox to handle what life throws at them…and to do it with kindness, respect, confidence, and gratitude. Once they have mastered these traits, they will be unstoppable. They will know their worth isn’t based on a grade or recognition, and they will have the confidence to soar. They will become the unstoppable generation and there will be space for all of them to reach their dreams!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

We live in a world of comparison, but I try hard to only compare myself to myself. The Dalai Lama states, “The goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous self.” This supports the way I live and also the foundation of our Crafting Character systems. Focus on becoming a better version of yourself and don’t worry about everyone else and what they are doing. There is only one competition we need to worry about and that is the competition with ourselves to become better people.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I am deeply inspired by the creator of IT cosmetics, Jamie Kern Lima. I went to a virtual event of hers and was struck by how others spoke of her kindness and character. It was clear that even though she recently sold her business for over a billion dollars, she didn’t define herself by that number, and instead determined her success by her character and service to others. She is my people and speaks my language!

Ironically, before I had even seen her at this event, she was inspiring me with her story of being rejected by QVC and refusing to let go of her dream! That same thing happened to me and I tap into her story at times for strength and encouragement. Jamie, I will buy if you will meet me for lunch! Just send me your order!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We are on Instagram @crafting_character and facebook at Crafting Character

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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