What David Bowie Can Teach You About Self-Reinvention

Toby Rogers
Jan 11, 2016 · 5 min read
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In the 21st century, everyone leads multiple lives. Long gone are the days when people would leave school, walk into a job then stay there until they could claim their gold retirement watch. Unless they’re lucky enough to find their vocation early on, modern workers will have many careers before they get the chance to stop. But how do you successfully reinvent yourself over and over again?

It’s 7am on a Monday and it’s freezing. Winter, it seems, has well and truly set in. Not that it matters much; I’m at home. I’ve just heard the news that David Bowie is dead. One of the most influential artists in pop music history, David Bowie was an icon who remained relevant and contemporary for five decades.

But how did he do it? What can David Bowie teach the rest of us about staying at the very top of our game?

When David Bowie killed Ziggy Stardust in 1973, few would have imagined he’d be able to better it; but he did. The Thin White Duke is as iconic as Bowie’s glam-rock legend and arguably had a bigger influence. And it’s not just his own image that Bowie revitalised. He did the same for Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, whose careers looked all but over until Aladdin Sane stepped in.

So what can David Bowie teach you about reinventing yourself? What can you learn about rebooting your life from the original spider from Mars?

Don’t Be Afraid To Shed Your Old Identities If They’re Not Successful

Just because you’ve got a six-figure salary and you’re getting regular slaps on the back from your boss, it doesn’t mean that’s it. Even the most successful people can reinvent themselves, it’s just a bit harder if you think you’ve got a lot to lose. Job security, though, is an illusion. You might be on a roll now, but don’t ever kid yourself that it’ll last forever. You could be made redundant tomorrow; isn’t there something else you’d rather be doing?

David Bowie was at the very top when he decided to call time on Ziggy Stardust. Across two albums in the early seventies, he single-handedly gave birth to glam rock, setting the blueprint for a host of other artists to follow. Really, he could’ve built his whole career on it, churning out “Jean Jeanie”-esque stomps adinfinitum. But he didn’t. David Bowie had the vision to realise glam had run its course, abdicating before he became the forgotten king of a long-dead genre. His band didn’t like it; the cash cow was being slaughtered prematurely. But history proved him right.

Contemporaries who commanded hit after hit were consigned to the annals of Britrock’s past, while Bowie remained as influential as ever. Reinventing yourself when you’re at the top of your game can be just as successful as doing it when you’re at the bottom, if not more so. Don’t wait until things come crashing down around you before you take steps to live the life you want. If your success isn’t making you happy, then what’s the point?

Repeatedly Reinventing Yourself Is The Key To Longevity

Why just reinvent yourself once? When David Bowie became The Thin White Duke it wasn’t the last character he developed. All your identities have a certain shelf-life. You’re not the same person in your fifties as you were in your twenties, so why try to live the same life? One of the problems with many aging musicians is they’re still clinging to rose-tinted views of the artists they once were. Even icons like Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones have refused to grow old gracefully, instead becoming embarrassing caricatures of their former selves. It’s something that never happened to David Bowie.

No longer able to pull off the androgynous spaceman image, Bowie remained acutely aware of his evolution; always adopting personas that suit his time of life perfectly. Just as trying to squeeze into the jeans you wore in your teens will make you look foolish when you’re in your sixties, so too will trying to reconnect with your former selves. Life’s a journey that doesn’t end until you shuffle off your mortal coil. There’s no point stopping until you’ve explored as many destinations as you can. If you want to have the most rewarding experiences, you’ve got to jump in at the deep end. Just because you’re satisfied with where you’re at, it doesn’t mean you need to stay there forever.

Just Because Your Latest Persona Is Successful It Doesn’t Mean It Always Will Be

The same goes for success. Just because your current persona pays the rent and lets you live the lifestyle you think you want, it doesn’t mean it’ll last forever. The key is to always be aware of when it’s time for a change. Your friends and family may think you’re being rash if you quit a perfectly good job; but if it’s not where you see yourself fulfilling your dreams, why stick around? We’re long conditioned to believe that a good job title, a decent salary and the security of a half-decent pension are the keys to happiness. It’s a myth. Success happens on the inside; you need to be content that the life you’re living matches up to your expectations.

Don’t be afraid to call time on a successful career if there’s something you’d much rather be doing. Waiting until retirement is just wishing the best years of your life away. David Bowie was never afraid to reinvent himself, often long before the rest of the world was ready. Even his most successful incarnations benefited from not hanging round too long. His most iconic, Ziggy Stardust, remains so because he never outstayed his welcome.

Don’t ever become stale and bored in a life you find less than fulfilling. David Bowie didn’t, and that’s why his star will shine far brighter than most. So long Starman, you’ll be missed.

Like what you read? Let me know in the comments or by clicking the little heart button. You can also get in touch via Twitter @tobiasrogers

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