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Q&A: Wealth manager lays out keys to success beyond money

Author and wealth manager John Christianson discusses wealth, happiness and success

5 min read


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The great wealth creators of the world are driven to achieve success by many factors, and their status as such brings challenges beyond their professional work. John Christianson, founder and CEO of Highland Private Wealth Management, has spent more than 25 years working closely with highly successful wealth creators and learning what makes them tick. In his new book “The Wealth Creator’s Playbook: A Guide to Maximizing Your Return on Life and Money,” set for release on March 31, 2019, Christianson delves into how money affects things like one’s decision-making and personal relationships, and offers advice on habits and behaviors that can foster true happiness outside of one’s wealth.


A key focus of your book is reconsidering how one defines success. How do you define success in your own life, and what advice do you offer wealth creators who are trying to find fulfillment in other ways?

Christianson: I believe we all have a desire to live fully. That means both pursuing financial success and flourishing in other important areas of life. I believe everyone has the responsibility to define success for themselves. I feel successful as I deepen relationships with family and friends; by being healthy and active; by expressing my spiritual side through generosity, influence and sharing my expertise; and as I bring my unique contribution to the world through my work as a wealth and life coach.

Many people don’t take time to define success for themselves, largely because it requires courage to do this inner work. I’ve developed a tool called “My Life Portfolio” to help wealth creators examine the elements of a successful life (including money, work, relationships, health, purpose, mind and play) and build a “portfolio” with the proper diversification, risk and return to help achieve their definition of fulfillment.


What are some common personality traits you’ve found among the highly successful wealth creators you’ve worked with, both good and bad?

Christianson: In my experience, many highly successful wealth creators are the first generation in their families to have achieved wealth. They worked hard to get what they wanted in life and from a young age they had the drive to make something of themselves. They are usually highly educated and passionate about engaging in stimulating work with others like themselves. They value relationships of trust; they can also be demanding and have high expectations of others. Most recognize the responsibility that comes with their financial gifts, and they work with incredible focus, grit and persistence towards achieving meaningful outcomes. At the same time, they can be insecure about feeling, acting and being thought of as “normal.” Successful wealth creators have many of the same worries and fears as anyone else.


You write a lot about some of the psychological challenges that come with generating wealth. What advice would you give someone who has found financial success but is struggling to find happiness outside of their bank account?

Christianson: Psychological challenges and complexities are largely unanticipated impacts associated with wealth creation. For someone struggling to find fulfillment after accumulating material wealth, I suggest they start by defining success for themselves — personally, professionally and financially. I like to help wealth creators visualize what success looks like by saying “imagine yourself five to 10 years into the future. Looking back, what have been your guiding lights through this journey, leading to your ideal outcomes?” I ask wealth creators to reflect on their core values and explore what brings meaning and purpose to their life. These deeply held values hold the key to what I call “living fully.” Enlisting a wealth coach or counselor may also be a helpful step in finding greater happiness in and beyond material wealth.


In many cases, those who generate personal wealth do so in an effort to provide for their children, and you write about how wealth affects different generations as it’s passed on. Can you talk about that cycle, and how prosperous parents can foster a healthy outlook on wealth and success in their children?

Christianson: It’s normal for the children and family of wealth creators to be the key beneficiaries of their money. Unfortunately, in our desire to provide a financial leg up for our children, we can unintentionally handicap them. To prevent the unintended effects of wealth on children, parents need to focus on passing on family values, particularly the strong work ethic that created the wealth in the first place. Regular communication about the child’s goals and aspirations in life are important, as well as setting clear expectations that children will contribute to the world in their own unique way. Involving children in family generosity opportunities will help build their compassion and empathy muscle, while parents model the responsibility that comes with being a wealth holder. Children will mimic what they see happening within the family, and teaching by example is one of the best ways to influence positive outcomes.


You can learn more about Christianson and his work at, where you can also find episodes to his “Wealth Confidant” podcast.