Advice is often given freely, but it is rare that advice is rich and beneficial. In his fifth book, Above the Clouds: 9 Essentials for Thriving at the Peak, Michael C. Blackwell shares some of his best life lessons. Though the book is aimed at those who have reached the summit in their careers and other pursuits, the president of Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) offers useful advice – sweetened with humor and inspiration – for just about everyone.
Blackwell was just a teenager when he got a gig as a radio deejay. Later his resonant voice and a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill helped him move into radio and television broadcasting, but he felt a strong call to a deeper purpose. That drew him to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, where he received three degrees. From there he pastored several churches in North Carolina and Virginia before settling into his current post at BCH, where he has devoted his time and energy for nearly 34 years.
His “9 essentials” label each chapter. They are: purpose, achievement, relationships, creativity, health, laughter, security, spirituality and legacy.
Here are some highlights from the book:
“Let’s not confuse career with purpose: Your life is bigger than your career,” Blackwell writes in chapter one. “If you are simply dedicating your waking hours to career to the neglect of your spirit, family, health and healthy interests, you won’t find your purpose, no matter what career goals are reached.”
In order to find purpose, he says, one must pursue “internal passion.”
He bares much of his soul to lead readers on their own journey of self-discovery. Spiritual depth is a necessity, he says, and that comes from “a conscious commitment to seek the heart and mind of God.” Look deep into the soul, he advises, “not in the shallows of performance and platitudes.”
A story of brownie temptation appears in the chapter focusing on health. Blackwell relates other struggles in his years-long battle with weight and offers some meaty advice about the value of exercise and how to resist food temptation.
He writes, “… weight management affects everything about your health and well-being. Adopt this discipline early in your career and you won’t have to endure the yo-yo battle with weight that kept me wound up for so many years.”
If you are in need of laughter, Blackwell presents a few jokes in the humor chapter and explains why humor also has a serious side.
He writes: “If for no other reason, we need to laugh because it is literally good for us. Laughter boosts our immune system.”
Blackwell freely offers his best in expertise and experience to help the reader on his or her journey to the peak. From his “essential” on creativity where he dispels myths and declares: “But the beauty is that anyone can be creative” – to his words on spirituality and hope: “Spiritual faith has always abounded in hope and expectation and promise of life. Through the centuries, nothing has been more characteristic of Christian people than a hope that enabled them to cope with life – a power to challenge and overcome circumstances instead of being devastated and overcome by them.” These are just a few of many gold nuggets you’ll pick up “running the ridge” with Blackwell.
His last chapter, with a focus on legacy, concerns how we will be remembered when we have departed this life: “Your legacy is the script you’re writing on the pages of history; the difference you make at some point in someone’s life will prompt a memory of you,” he writes, and you would prefer it to be positive.
“How do you leave a positive legacy? Ask yourself, ‘What can I do to make life better for others?’” Blackwell writes.
As for his own legacy, he says he still has much he wants to do at BCH. “But,” he says, “they’re not going to have to carry me out of my office. I want to have two or three weeks of retirement before I die!
“I want to end my tenure – in office and on earth – waving the checkered flag of victory. I want to cross the finish line still accelerating. I’ll reach for the flag and take my victory lap with shouts of joy.”