Brilliant Career Lessons From David Bowie

David Bowie radiated style, passion and wisdom over the course of a career that spanned nearly half a century. Bowie reveled in his own truth and fearlessly cultivated his eccentricity. His example, in turn, emboldened scores of Bowie’s fans to take pride in their differences, because he made them feel understood, worthy and represented.

In his work life, David Bowie mastered a host of artistic disciplines. A seasoned musician, writer, visual artist and actor, he seemed to have a compulsion to re-orchestrate reality, and present it in a new and stylish way, inviting audiences to see themselves and their world differently.

David Bowie did so much more than make us dance. These are some of the career lessons he left us.  

Live up to your ability

Bowie was making music right up until the final days of his life. His most recent album was released on his final birthday, January 8, 2016. Bowie had already planned a follow-up to the project and did a preliminary recording of five songs he hoped to include.  

Bowie clearly loved his work, and he continued to approach it with enthusiasm, even after he achieved the highest level of success. Michael Farrell briefly toured with Bowie in 2003. Farrell, who at the time was the bandleader for Macy Gray’s band, was also part of the support band for Bowie’s A Reality Tour. Farrell said:

“At that point, Bowie was almost 40 years into his career, and I was kind of expecting autopilot. Instead he was full of boundless enthusiasm about music. He was constantly challenging himself and his band with different songs, revised set lists, and new material. The shows were epic and full of power.”

Fearlessly evolve

Bowie created his own genre of cool and it’s hard to imagine our world without his influence. Part of his identity as a songwriter, performer and artist was his perpetual inclination to grow and invent. Bowie was always evolving towards a new look, idea, way of creating or avenue for connecting with his audiences. Few performers are as enterprising, multidisciplinary or prolific as David Bowie.  

Bowie was quick to use technology to expand his reach; for example, he was among the first artists to digitize his music. In the late 1990’s he also started BowieNet, both an internet service provider and an online community where his fans could interact, sometimes directly with Bowie who frequented the site under the name “Sailor.”

Bowie was also an entrepreneur on Wall Street, and his “Bowie Bonds” gave him and his fellow performers a financial instrument to which they could tie their musical catalogues. 

Be good to your team

Farrell said that Bowie’s “affection for the band and crew was apparent,” and that he personally checked in on them to make sure they “felt taken care of.”  

Farrell remembers Bowie the coworker as someone with a simple life and work philosophy that existed beneath the public persona that Bowie showed the world. Farrell said, “Of course I will remember decades of musical brilliance, those are well documented and recorded. But I took away two simple things that even a rock star like Ziggy Stardust would not overlook: Work hard and be kind.”