The right way to walk away [Encore Post]

The story of Bill Withers reveals that true success sometimes requires tough choices

I’m very pleased with my life how it is. This business came to me in my thirties. I was socialized as a regular guy. I never felt like I owned it or it owned me. – Bill Withers, on why he left the music industry and never returned  (1)

A simple chord progression changed his life.

Bill Withers was an aircraft mechanic in California during the 1970s. Having never studied music formally, he taught himself to play guitar and piano, but didn’t think much of making a career in music before recording a small demo project. A few months later he was performing songs like “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me” nationwide. His sudden stardom caught him off guard.

He valued his independence highly, to the point that he rejected many of the traditional trappings of success, like hiring a manager and taking on commercial endorsements. He never felt comfortable with the industry’s impact on his life. When he noticed his music and his relationships suffering, he chose to walk away from music rather than hang on to his success. At the time of this post, he has not recorded a new project in 25 years.

Most artists would never willingly give up their dream of being in the spotlight.

However, if asked, Withers would likely respond that his life has turned out exactly the way he envisioned.

Now happily re-married, he lives a quiet life enjoying his children and speaking occasionally with young people about the lessons he learned during his stint with stardom. [For an in-depth look at Bill Wither’s life and career, we recommend the documentary film Still Bill.]

His example reveals a powerful truth about success. It shows that walking away is not always a bad thing.

Please note, however, that we’re not talking about marriage or covenant relationships. We’re referring to the choices we make in our business and musical partnerships. Sometimes, we come to the point where we realize something has to give. How can we determine the right time to walk away from a difficult situation?

Seth Godin points out in his book “The Dip” that while we generally view quitting negatively, everyone quits something at some point. We quit activities we no longer enjoy, we move on from jobs that don’t maximize our abilities, and we leave toxic relationships – all because we realize that something more important deserves our time and attention. The key is to quit the right thing for the right reasons. 

A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go. – Ecclesiastes 3: 5-6, The Message

Before walking away from a career or artistic partnership, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is my desire to walk away based on temporary feelings, or principles that not negotiable?
  2. Have I made every effort to make peace with the people involved?
  3. Am I attempting to escape from something that could be strengthening me?
  4. Have I asked God to help me to follow his will even if it contradicts my own?
  5. Am I prepared to step into something new and challenging?

If you can answer these questions honestly, you’ll be more confident when determining the right time and the right reasons to walk away.

The success of your next season depends on how you leave the previous one.

  1. Greene, Andy. “Bill Withers: The Soul Man Who Walked Away.” Rolling Stone. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.

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