John Christianson | What If I Don’t Have a Number?

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I connected with John Christianson on Twitter (where else?) a few months ago.  He wrote a blog about Dare, Dream, Do here — and after some tweet exchanges, I invited him to guest blog.  This is a terrific piece on a topic that I don't talk enough about — money.

The question “what’s your number” has been frequently posed lately in the context of personal wealth. You might have even seen the ING commercial in which actors walk around with orange numbers floating above their heads denoting their monetary life goal.   It’s a catchy ad campaign because anyone watching it can’t help but wonder, “hmmm, what is my number?”

And who could resist feeling bad about either not having a number, or having a number that is not high enough. If I don’t have a very big number, the thinking goes, my life can’t be a good one.

So, what is the amount of money that would allow me to live the life I always dreamed of? It assumes and postulates that we each have a dollar amount that will rid us of all worries, a number that will allow us to live on the beach, or play golf every day, a number that guarantees we’ve made it.

Without a number, can we be happy?


A financial calculation based on a number creates a finish line of sorts and, potentially, a false sense of security. What if I only want to live life fully, passionately, and with purpose?  If I focus too much on a specific amount of money, I could lose focus on other areas of my life that make me happy.  What if joy, peace, and fulfillment are my goals, and not X number of dollars?  Do we have our priorities backwards?

I will be turning 52 this week, transitioning from life 1.0 that was a wonderful blur of raising kids, building a career, and starting a company I have become proud of, to life 2.0, a new chapter filled with, I hope excitement, passion, and adventure.

I spent the first half of my adult life, paying tuition bills, being both father and coach to my kids, making the right connections for my career, keeping score as we all tend to do, saving up for a bigger house in the right neighborhood.

In life 2.0, I want to deepen relationships with my wife, family, and friends. I want to explore new growth opportunities for my company. I want to write more, maybe even a book, and share what I’ve learned in life and business. I’d like to create a gathering place for my family, a home that my wife and I design and build. I’d like to explore the ways I can utilize generosity and do my small part to better the world. In the second half of my life, I want to focus on the people important to me and the things I feel called to do. I also want to be fully aware of each moment.

These are all goals I cannot really apply a number to.

It’s interesting that for all the financial counsel I give, and planning I do for other people, it’s far more challenging to apply the same to my own life and dreams.  I worry about saving enough for retirement; I am uncertain what type of lifestyle my wife and I want, and can afford; I also recognize my  time and energy are limited.

At the same time, I’m resolute in my desire for life 2.0  to be one that is more fully lived, one that is clearly impacted by the level of financial resources available to me but also broadens and elevates the importance of other facets of wealth:  relationships (family and friends), spirituality, generosity, and my physical health and well-being.

Balancing both the fear of having enough and wanting a life that brings joy and fulfillment is challenging and has been greatly helped by my personal faith in God, and my awareness to live in the moment. Candidly, I also feel much more empathy for the struggles faced by my clients, who are blessed with significant assets.

In my 25+ years of financial advisory experience, a high net worth does not make you immune from fear and worry – I can professionally attest to that – although many of us live like it does. If the financial math says we are safe and independent but we still feel insecure, then what good is the math?

Rather than think of financial independence as a destination, I suggest we think of it as a tool. The financial resources we are blessed with are not a goal, but are a means of achieving a life of meaning and purpose.

Financial independence is a responsibility we have, rather than comfort we are given. Money, for those with a lot of it, causes angst, probably because we know we have more than we need. The cure is to focus on being good stewards, rather than owners, of that money. That will lead to the kind of financial security that cannot be measured in dollars.

Don’t get me wrong – having a lot of money can be a very good thing. It can provide us with many options, and yes, freedom. But that freedom requires us to examine our motivations and compels us to look beyond our basic needs and desires


What is your number?

What do you do with your freedom?

John Christianson, Founder and CEO of Highland Private Wealth Management, has provided financial advice to family wealth creators for over 25 years.  John specializes in providing whole-life wealth stewardship advice and counsel focused on living fully, writing The Wealth Clarity Blog™, facilitating workshops on generosity, and stays active in several other community organizations.  John is a graduate of the College of Business and Economics at Washington State University, a Chartered Financial Analyst and a CPA-Inactive status.  John and his wife, Kelle, live in Redmond, Washington; have three adult-age children and two very active golden retrievers.

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