5 Expat Career Lessons I Learned from David Bowie

5 Expat Career Lessons I Learned from David Bowie


“Without music, life would be a mistake”.- Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

Ok, that might be too dramatic, but there are indeed quite a few life and career lessons to be learned from the music scene. One exceptional teacher would be David Bowie. With his recent passing, it had me thinking about what someone like you and me (an expat career-girl and spectacular shower-singer) could learn from his career.

career lessons
© Helen Green

“Get a killer sense of style” was pretty high up, but I excluded that for practical reasons. Instead, here are Bowie lessons expats should adopt:

1. Create Your Own Brand

Be you a celebrity or not, nothing is quite as valuable as your own brand. You may not have top CDs to sell, nor do you possess a crazy personality or a stage name, but you still need to stand out and make a difference. That means creating a brand for yourself as a professional. To begin, create a social media page where others can get in contact with you. Use it to establish yourself as a unique personality and promote your strengths. Understand and outline the killer skills that make you stand out from every other run-of-the-mill professional or expat.

2. Have Flexibility

David Bowie was popular in the 70s because he was an original to that generation, and he stayed popular until his death because he remained a mystic to the modern crowd. His career changed radically throughout his life because staying current is crazy important. As an expat, you need to take a page from his book and embrace flexibility. Maybe you had a job when back in your home country or maybe you were the expert in your department – but you’re not “there” anymore (both physically and in terms of your passions, interest and desires). Embrace your uniqueness as an expat who has the ability to reinvent oneself to match the new culture and the new business scene. Looking at Bowie, don’t forget to update the way you market yourself -so go for it!

career lessons
David Bowie exhibition © mikewaters/123RF


3. Be a Go-Getter

One does not stay as popular as David Bowie without getting out there and getting things done. His persistence to keep his career hot and relevant is what enthralled two whole generations. And, guess what? You may not be able to sing, but you can sure go out there and take whatever you are good at by the neck. Being an expat is a solo venture, even if you have your spouse, your kids, or your friends with you. Because, in the end, you’re not going to get anywhere unless you do something about it. Reinventing oneself is not meant to be doom and gloom. Bowie enjoyed the ride and reaped the benefits. Sure, it was hard sometimes, but if you want a job, chase it down. Want a business? Put yourself out there. Need a network? Grab a glass of wine and start up your Facebook. Get excited about accomplishing things and get persistent.

4. Take Risks

Oh man, anyone who ever opened up a tabloid knew about David Bowie’s risks. Not everything David Bowie did was a success. Ask any fan about ‘Tin Machine’, and get ready to lose the rest of your day… But while some of them paid off and some of them didn’t, risks were not something he avoided, and you as an expat shouldn’t either. The fact that you’re even an expat proves your capability (you’re living in a completely different country!) and it’s even more important to continue taking risks. When those risks pay off, that’s what you’ll be remembered for.

career lessons
David Bowie Berlin Exhibition 2014

5. Have an Open Mind

Those who have stepped foot out of their home country understand the value of an open mind. When the waiter suggests something off the menu that looks like it could have been your pet less than 10 minutes earlier, you have to roll with the punches. When cultural differences have a board meeting looking like a verbal reenactment of 300, you have to pull up your boots and keep pushing on. The breadth of David Bowie’s songs, showmanship, and personality showed an open-mindedness to take chances, and respect even what you’re not into. The same applies with being an expat and changing career paths. It’s vital to be open to surprising (sometimes weird) changes, unexpected mistakes, and even some fun breaks you never expected to knock on your door. Not only will this keep you sane, but it’ll give you tons of experiences.


David Bowie’s legacy is built on quality work and some crazy experiences. Who doesn’t want that? By taking a page from his book and applying some of his best tactics to your expat career, who knows, maybe someone will be writing an article about you some day.

Rita Golstein-Galperin is a multicultural expat living in Paris and a Career Makeover Strategist® for expat women. She created Expat Renaissance to help women rediscover, reinvent and redefine their professional-awesome-self while thriving overseas! Combining her honed strategic problem solving skills and widely interdisciplinary background as lawyer, entrepreneur, public policy professional, economist and lecturer she helps women get unstuck and embrace new opportunities abroad, whether in the job market or starting (and growing) their own business.



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