In this season of giving, Justin Baldoni, star of the hit television show “Jane the Virgin” joins us for this 50th episode of Charged Up! to talk about how to give back and, ultimately, get more. Baldoni might be a bad boy on the small screen, but in real life he dedicates himself to serving others.
No matter where you are on your financial journey, there are ways to give back and increase your own joy and wealth. We’ll talk about the various ways you can give back, from dedicating your time to others to donating points from your credit card. No act of kindness is too small and can reap great rewards.
Let’s get Charged Up! about giving back.
Jenny Hoff: Justin, thank you so much for joining me today for our 50th episode of Charged Up!
Justin Baldoni: Oh, so cool, thank you for having me. Fifty, that’s huge. Congratulations.
Hoff: Thank you, thank you. So, you’re a pretty incredible person. Many people might know you from “Jane the Virgin,” but you’ve done so much outside of that, from your documentaries on those with terminal illnesses to your tireless work serving your community. As someone who has a family with two children now and a demanding job, finding the time to still give it back is not easy, so can you tell us a little bit first about what inspires you to continuously find ways to serve others?
Baldoni: First of all, whoa, it’s quite a first question and an introduction. I think that for me, it starts with faith, right? It starts with kind of your core belief system, and in my life, I was raised in the Baha’i faith. In the Baha’i faith, we are taught that we are all one; we are all one human family. All the religions are one, all the races are one, we are all just one. If we strip away our skin, we are all the same on the inside, and we’re also all created unique.
No two people on this Earth are identical and that’s a really interesting thing to think about. No two things on this Earth are identical. That means that every single thing placed on this Earth has its own unique ability and purpose to serve, and it’s really important to me in my life that I kind of keep that perspective.
I believe that God created me unique just like he created you unique and the other 7 billion people on this Earth unique, and every single one of us has the capacity to serve in only the way that we were meant to. So, in my life, the Baha’i faith says to me, the purpose of life is to know God and to serve each other. The contributing force of good in mankind, to be a source of unity, to be balm to the suffering of friends, to a stranger, just to be of service, and that’s kind of where it all starts from.
So, all of the stuff that I have going on at work, my career, it’s all rooted in the same thing and that is to be of service, and so my perspective has always been that if I can align my core values, my belief system, if I work and I can use my work as a form of service, then everything will work out.
It’s not about money, it’s not about fame, it’s not about any of that stuff; it’s about figuring out how to use whatever tools we have been given to serve.
Hoff: Yes, I mean, I like that especially when you say it’s using the tools that you already have and using the work that you have to do it, so there’s a lot of – and I want to get into that a little bit about how you use the talents that you have in video production and directing and that kind of stuff as well to serve others with your documentaries – but first, I want to talk about why people should give back for them, for their own personal journey? Now, I’ve heard from many successful people and life coaches that giving back is actually an integral part of increasing your own resources. That may sound counterintuitive if you’re not spending time working for money or if you’re giving away your money, your own wealth should decrease. Yet that’s not really the case, so can you talk about the law of attraction and what you have seen when it comes to people who devote their time and money to helping others and what they get in return?
Baldoni: Those are great questions. I’m right in the middle of kind of what everybody says about this topic, right? Yes, there’s the law of attraction, there’s all these things that we kind of made up. These new ideas, like I remember when “The Secret” came out, I was like \u2018it’s not a secret.” It’s in every religious text you could ever imagine from the beginning of the history of time, but I do feel like it’s about intention, right?
So, on the one side, I don’t feel like it’s pure to give because you are expecting something in return, right? So, this idea of giving so that you can get something back or – they say if you give, then you get twice as much back from the universe, that, I have an issue with because I believe that it’s when you give, expecting nothing in return, that that’s when it comes back twofold, and I believe there is a massive test that lies in the giving.
So, if I give and I’m being of service, let’s say I’m someone blessed with a lot of money and I’m just financially giving something, but I’m doing it for a tax write-off, I’m doing it because I believe that the universe is going to give me twice as much back, I don’t believe that that is pure. I don’t necessarily believe that it’s going to come back. However, the test is, can I give purely, knowing that something could come back but truly wanting to make a difference in the world and just let go? And I also believe that the other part of giving is just be active detaching yourself from the material prison that is our financial system.
This idea that we spend our entire life acquiring and trying to bring dirt – really, all money is is dirt, all money is is the stuff that we’ve fabricated. We spend our whole life working and trying to acquire these things that we can’t take with us when we die, so this idea that we should give, well, it makes perfect sense because we are not going to take it with us, so we have to practice letting go at some point, so I think that there’s a beautiful test in that. There’s this, I need to let go of this stuff that I’ve been acquiring and working my entire life for. I see that there’s people in need and struggling everywhere I look. You’d have to live in a rock to not see that there’s a need, so why does it make sense for me to have billions of dollars or millions of dollars when a person 20 feet away from me cannot even pay their rent and they are just as entitled to it as I am?
And I think that that is where the test comes in. Can you give freely without attachment, know that you might not get it back, and then if it comes back, can you be willing to give again? And that’s what I think this thing that separates the truly, truly successful great people from people that have the right intention is can you do it really with a pure motive? There’s a quote in the Baha’i faith that says that the betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and godly deeds and through commendable and seemly conduct. It’s interesting that these four things are mentioned.
Pure and godly, so what is godly? It’s a good deed, right? But it’s a pure deed as well, that means the betterment of the world has to be pure and a good deed. You can’t just do good deeds. It’s got to be pure, right? And then you can be pure but you’re not doing good deeds. You need both of them, and that’s what I think the big lesson is. That’s kind of my feeling about giving.
Hoff: And what about people who don’t have millions or billions of dollars, but what about people who already feel financially strained themselves, or perhaps they have a really big family to take care of or they’re working two jobs, and they say, “OK, maybe one day, if I strike it big or I win the lottery, I can give back, but right now, I’m tapped out on my resources”? What do you say to them about finding a way to give back and what it can do for them?
Baldoni: I think that we had misinterpreted what giving back is, so I think that we spend so much time talking about giving back, thinking about it as a financial monetary contribution when in reality, it’s not, right? That’s a piece of it, of course, and if you’re somebody that has the resources, then beautiful, but I believe that our most valuable asset, the thing that we have that is worth more than anything, that is infinitely more valuable than anything that’s in our bank accounts is our time, because we have a ticking clock. We know there is only a finite amount of time that we are on this planet, so what are we doing with it? That’s worth far more than any piece of paper that the government can give you, right?
Of course, you have to take care of yourself, and you have your hierarchy of needs, and you have to have food and clothing and shelter, but time is valuable, so what I say to those people is that, first of all, if you are taking care of your family, you are already serving, right? That’s worth one. If you’re taking care of other people, you are already doing part of that job. The other is, what are areas you can give your time to? And maybe there is no time outside of what you are already doing because you are a single mom and you are raising three kids or your husband is working all the time and you’re barely holding it together, and what I would say is, it’s how you are raising your children.
It’s how you are interacting with the outside world. It’s what are you leaving with a human being every time you have an interaction with that person? Are you attempting to leave the world better than you found it? Are you attempting to make somebody smile or brighten their day? Are you giving people compliments and making them feel hopeful? Are you speaking to people in a way that makes them feel happy and acknowledges their potential, right?
This is also service, and this is, I think, more valuable than a monetary contribution, and I believe that when we start to kind of reframe our lives and think about it that way, then, I think, this may sound silly, but I think money ends up coming. If you just keep doing what you are doing and you’re a good person, then money ends up coming.
But more than that, if you’re really doing it the right way, then you realize that like it’s almost as if you have enough to survive and you can give in so many other ways, and some of the happiest people I know don’t have a lot of money. They deal with more than the richest people I know, so it’s all about perspective in my opinion.
Hoff: And I think what’s also important is kind of what it does for your own confidence, and if you feel like you are always lacking and you are always needing almost from others and you’re always lacking in resources, it does something to your own psyche and the ability to kind of grow versus when you are giving, like you said, even of your time, that confidence in you of your abilities and your potential to grow, I think grows itself. What do you think?
Baldoni: I think the lack of confidence comes from comparison. It comes from, first of all, the way we were raised and whether or not we were told we were enough as we were. I mean, I’m somebody that appears to be very confident, but I also have a lack of confidence. I think that all of us have a lack of confidence. It’s really hard to really be genuinely confident. How could we? There is how many billions of us and guess what? None of us has any idea really what the purpose of life is or where we’re going, if there is life after death, if all these religion is true, like what’s going to happen to my family? Am I going to be remembered? None of us really know.
All we know is that we are here sharing this common experience together. So a lack of confidence, I think it’s very normal.
However, I think that it’s really important, again, to put things in a perspective and recognize that we are a drop in an ocean, right? We are one of billions and billions, and billions of people that are all sharing a spiritual experience that we call life, and it’s very easy to lose sight of that and to think that we’re just in it alone, and that’s where I think a lot of our problems come from, it’s this idea of me against the world and nobody cares about me, or who cares what I’m going to do? And then of course, depression sinks in, but it comes down to like waking up in the morning and asking yourself like, “All right, what can I do to be of service today?” There’s another quote, like, “What can I do for anybody that crosses my path today?” Even if it’s a smile.
What I found and when I’m feeling down on myself, the quickest way for me to get out of the depression or to get out of that fog is to make myself useful to another human being. I think God gave us this really interesting gift, like this shared connection that feels good to give, it feels good to help somebody else, it feels good to provide. Suddenly, we find our place in the world and we recognize that we are needed and we are wanted, and we have a purpose, but if we are just stuck in our room all day long and we are not being useful to anybody, then of course, what will happen? We get lost, right? We get lost. It’s like a plant not getting to see the sun, right? What happens to the plant, it dies. It gets lost. It doesn’t get watered, it doesn’t get heated, it doesn’t get its light. It needs a light, and we are just like these plants. We need light and where can we get light? We can get light by interacting with other people, by being of use to them, by letting them be seen, and then that’s the quickest way to get out of our own crap.
Now, we want to gain confidence? Give. Give your time, give your energy, give your love.
Hoff: Absolutely, and I want to talk to you about your Skid Row Carnival of Love that is coming up in January and you do this every year. Can you talk about kind of how you started this and how it’s grown, and what’s the purpose of it, and what does it entail?
Baldoni: Sure. This started, like most of the things in my life, not really intentionally. I like to think that I’m just – I try to be kind of an open channel to God, and sometimes, it gives me random ideas that I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with but I just kind of follow them and they kind of grow into things, and the Carnival of Love was something that was never originally a carnival. It was me not having a lot of friends, feeling lonely and lost in Los Angeles, and wanting to connect, and there’s a person on Skid Row, the worst man-made disaster in our country, thousands and thousands of people sleep there every single day and night, infested by drugs and violence, and sex crimes, and you name it, it’s all there. But there is a birthday every day on Skid Row and nobody to celebrate it, and I thought for my birthday, maybe I should just take my friends down there and we should just connect with people. I saw one of my other best friends do it on his birthday and it really inspired me. It made me happy, and so I reached out. I had maybe six, seven friends at the time and we went down to Skid Row and we made sandwiches, we gave our clothing, but it wasn’t about the clothing or the sandwiches. It was about connecting with people. It was about meeting them where they are and talking to them and letting them feel seen and heard, and loved, and then that kind of grew and grew, and grew, 30 people the next year, and 40 people the next year, and 70 people, and then I randomly found myself back on television as an actor and with that came a little bit of fame and of course, the way our town works, with a little bit of fame comes popularity and suddenly, what you say or do means a little bit more for whatever reason, and so I decided to kind of see if I can turn that into something a little bit bigger. So the first year of Jane the Virgin, I had an idea. Again, it wasn’t mine. It just came through me that we should throw a carnival. It was that simple. As soon as it came out of my mouth, I was like, “That’s it. We got to do it. We got to throw a carnival,” because what’s the point of a carnival? A carnival’s true intention is to go through the town and kind of lift it up, give it something to look forward to, and I thought, well, what better place to throw a carnival than the worst place in our country? So that’s where it came from and we started off as, let’s just come together and love. There’s no ulterior motives, there was no foundation, it was a nonprofit. It was just how can we all come together on one day and love this group of people that just really, really deserve it and need it? In the first year, I think about 300 people came, and the second year, we decided to really make it bigger and about 900 people came, and we served a few thousand homeless, and then the third year which was last year, we decided to use the carnival as really this Trojan Horse to bring other nonprofits and groups together that normally wouldn’t work together. We shut down a large area of Skid Row, we threw a block party, we had 2,000 volunteers come, we served 4,000 homeless and really, it was this Trojan Horse to also provide the homeless with things that they might not be able to get: medical services, DMV came and gave people ID cards, we were training them for a job interviews. We provided, I think 30 jobs that day. We had STD checking and HIV checks, and feet-washing and haircuts, and all kinds of things, you name it. On top of gourmet food and carnival games in the children’s area, it was a day where it didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, it didn’t matter if you were homeless or not, you were a human being, and for those three to four hours, I couldn’t tell who was homeless and who’s not because every single person that came to volunteer, their job was to befriend another person who is experiencing homelessness and to see them as a human being, and that’s what happened, and now we’re going into our fourth year. It’s now an official 501C3 so with that comes the burden to try and raise the money and all that fun stuff, but really, at the end of the day, this is just a day where people can come together and love, and that’s really it. It’s just about love.
Hoff: I think that’s incredible. It’s incredible, especially because so many thousands of people then come out too, and so they all get to be impacted and influenced by this. Even if they don’t volunteer on a regular basis, they can come out for this day. What about for somebody who might want to do something like you did in their city or they’re just in a loss of “What can I do? I don’t want to just give money. I want to actually do something that I can feel that impact that I can get other people involved and make it a community event.” What would you suggest to them as far as getting started?
Baldoni: Get started. What are you waiting for? If we wait to figure out how to do something, we will never do it.There’s been so many things that I wanted to do and didn’t do because I took too much time in figuring out how, and I really believe in this idea that when we have a premonition or a prompt that comes from something greater than ourselves, if we take one step, then God takes two, and the universe, whatever you want to call it, it just works out that way, and I think that of course, it’s an uphill battle and of course, there’s going to be tremendous adversity and trials, and hardships. Nothing is ever easy but nothing worthwhile ever really is, and I believe that if you have an idea and you want to do something that’s for the greater good for the community and it’s really pure, and a great idea, then you just gotta get up and take a step, whether that means making a phone call to a friend and saying, “Will you do this with me?” or it means just going and doing it yourself and hoping that you attract the right people to do it with you, but I believe that there’s just not enough time, so don’t wait. Don’t procrastinate to do something that could make a difference in the world and change somebody’s life because the more you procrastinate, the more lives that are not going to be able to change by what you could have done.
Hoff: Yes, absolutely, and I’m curious, because you live in a city that’s extremely competitive and it’s pretty high stress and it’s superficial in many ways, and you’re in an industry that is not very secure. Any moment, we see with celebrities, they can rise and fall pretty quickly, and so how do you maintain a groundedness in all of that and feel peaceful inside, and serving others, does that help you ease the anxiety that naturally must come from living in a place like Los Angeles and working in the entertainment business?
Baldoni: Oh, yes, of course. Yes, absolutely. I mean, in many ways, I think I’ve designed my life in a way that everything that I do is really a way for me to stay grounded, like almost everything I do is intentional, from the way I use my social media to the way that I’ve built my company, to the way I use Jane the Virgin and my acting career, it’s all intentional. It’s so easy to get lost in this world, this is superficial world, and by the way, everything that I do does not mean I am someone that doesn’t get the anxiety and insecurity. It plagues me all the time because I’m human and it’s supposed to. You can’t live in a world like the one we live in and be immune to these things. Unfortunately, we have to be a part of it and it’s through being a part of it that we can develop the necessary tools and build the capacity to actually figure out how we can change it, but in the industry that I’m in, it’s awful. It’s all built on who’s relevant now and who’s fat now and how good this show is doing, and who’s watching this? I have my own fears about it and who knows, I can end up working at a restaurant in three or four years and I’ll have to be okay with that and be happy, and you know how that will happen? Because I know that I am so much more than my job title, because I have a family to come home to and a wife who loves me, and two children. Those are the things that mean more than anything. So for me, it’s like, yes, I’m absolutely a victim of the fame that’s getting to everybody else. I think it’s just so, so important to recognize that I am not the industry that I am in and I am not my chosen profession. I’m Justin, I am first and foremost a child of God, I’m a spiritual being, having a spiritual experience. I’m a Baha’i, I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a friend, and I’m an actor, and I’m a director, and I’m a social entrepreneur, and I’m all those things but those are not the things I am first, and if we divide ourselves by our professions and our occupations, and the industry that we are living in, then that’s just probably the quickest way to unhappiness that I could ever think of.
Hoff: Yes, absolutely, and I think that’s something that everybody should keep in mind, and we’re always anxious about the next step in our career or getting enough money or getting fame, or accolades, but as you said, that shouldn’t be what defines us.
Baldoni: I think about the same things. I think about the same things and that’s why I want to make it very clear that while I am a part of it, it does not mean that I am it so I think about – and my wife and I talked about it all the time, like “Crap, I got to use this – I have to figure out how to turn this into this,” but at the same time, at the end of the day, if it is all taken away, I’m going to be OK.
Baldoni: We’re going to be OK.
Hoff: And you’re really a big family person. I follow you on social media and I see that you post a lot about now, your two children. How are you going to influence them as far as giving back and how can you involve them? Can you involve them now? How early do you think you can involve kids and what would you say to people who have a family and say, “I want to still be a part with my family and give my time to others.” What would your suggestion be as far as things they could do?
Baldoni: Well, the Baha’i faith says that before the age of five, child learns all the spiritual virtues that will take with us throughout this life, so honesty, compassion, kindness, empathy, right? Trustworthiness, all these things, a child picks up on before the age of five, so pretty much everything that I’m doing right now is also for my kids because they’re going to be living in the digital world world where all these things are going to be traceable. My parents, I wasn’t able to grow up and trace back any of the things that they did. I just saw their actions, but we have this global online database where my children are going to be able to see everything that their father did from the time they were born to however old they are when they look at it, so the way that I use my Instagram, the way that I serve, the way that I’m building my company, it’s all for my kids. It’s so that they can grow up seeing that, look, their dad wasn’t perfect but their dad tried, and their dad took every area of it and he tried to do good with it and serve people with it, and he was flawed, and he screwed up but he showed it to them because I believe that we can’t hide and conceal our weaknesses to our children. I think that’s a big piece of helping our children grow, and in terms of the last part of your question which was how do you do it while maintaining a family and giving time, I think it’s important that we don’t separate it. Giving and being a part of a family and giving to your family, they’re not mutually exclusive; you can be both, right? So I remember, the first year of the carnival, I brought my daughter to Skid Row and wore her on my chest and she wasn’t even a year old. I have to believe in some way that the energy of that experience got somewhere inside of her and she’s going to be there this year. She was sick last year. I was only able to bring my son. I want to know that they were a part of it. I want them to see it. I think that being a family man or being a mom, or being whatever you are, I think that it’s important to get out there and serve with your kids. Teach them, let them see through your deeds, not your words that you care about others and you’re trying to be a better person and make a difference in the world. Let’s just talk about it and do it, and there’s nothing greater than that.
Hoff: And truly, that’s probably a better gift that you can give them than anything material that costs a lot of money at the end of the day.
Baldoni: Well, yes, the best, the best. It doesn’t matter how much you leave your kids as an inheritance. If you leave them with memories, service, and teaching them of true friendship and being selfless, and really, that’s far worth more than anything you could ever have in the bank account.
Hoff: Fantastic. I agree with what you say and I really hope that people that were listening to this kind of get these ideas in their mind of how they can give back and get their minds off of themselves for a moment, and see what they can truly acquire.
Finally, our show is called Charged Up, so what gets you charged up, Justin, about giving back?
Baldoni: What gets me charged up is I believe that everyone has a light and what’s so powerful is the light of unity, that it can illuminate the whole Earth, and I believe that to be the case. I think that unity is a light and the world is dark right now, and we need light. Every single one of us, I look at the world and I see 7 billion opportunities to have light. I think I see all these lanterns, right? They’re not turned on, almost. Sometimes, they’re not on. It doesn’t mean that the potentiality of the lamp doesn’t exist. All you have to do is turn it on, hit the switch, and suddenly, you are lighting up the whole dark area, and it’s no accident that a little tiny bit of light can lighten up an entire dark room, and you can even go into science, right? It’s like darkness is really just the absence, right, of photons, the absence of light, so if we have all of these light, so if we have all of these human beings, they are all receptacles. They are all potential light givers. What gets me charged up is imagining and thinking about how many people I can interact with on a daily basis and help them activate their own life because that’s how we make a difference, is you don’t change the world by doing it yourself. You change the world by empowering other people to recognize that they can change the world, and so that’s what gets me charged up, is thinking about how many billions of people there are and how much potential there is for unity and for goodness.
Hoff: Fantastic. Justin, thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to talk to us today. I think that what you say holds a lot of truth and it’s very inspiring. Thank you so much.
Baldoni: Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve. I appreciate it.