Life Lessons I Learned From David Bowie

Life Lessons I Learned From David Bowie

I woke up this morning to a notification I had been tagged in a post by my cousin Jaime. I went to check it thinking it was of something adorable one her children did, or maybe a whacky old 80s photo she had come across of us.

I wish.

“David Bowie dies at 69 After Battle With Cancer.”

I wake up my husband.

“David Bowie died.”

“Did you have a bad dream?”

I wish.

Just this past Friday night, Aaron and I triumphantly scored the last vinyl copy in the District of David Bowie’s entire latest album, Blackstar. We spent the night at home listening to it and playing Scrabble.

We marveled, as always, at his talent, weirdness, provocation, timelessness, and how good he looked.

David Bowie has always looked good to me. In fact, him, as King Jareth in The Labyrinth (along with Mike Maronna) were my first stirrings of male attraction.

I don’t remember my life without knowing the entire script and cannon of The Labyrinth. Throughout the years, I have owned multiple VHS and DVD versions of the film. The theme of the film: growing up hurts, but its brave, and old friends stay with you no matter what, never failed to resonate with me and inspire me from the age of four to twenty-nine, and I am sure will do so beyond.

I have never not cried tears of complex and appreciative feelings at the end of that film.

My early introduction to David Bowie gave way to lifelong fandom as I eventually acquainted myself with and acquired his entire catalogue. When Aaron and I got married, we took our wedding photos outside of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art – amid the David Bowie retrospective. It was perfect. Even the billboard we posed against of him read “David Bowie Is ___” the blank spot there to let you fill your imagination with possibility.

A couple hours later, we had our first dance — to “Soul Love”. The song Aaron first put on right after we decided to get married.

As I lay The Labyrinth next to Blackstar and ponder all that came between (in order of my personal discovery), a wealth of insight and formative words come forward that have guided me in my life. I thought I’d share them with you. Even if you’re not a fan, I think we can all find some value in these words.

“No one can blame you for walking away. Too much rejection. No love injection.” – The Underground, 1986
Know when to call it quits in a relationship and know when it’s not your fault.

“Life can’t be easy. It’s not always swell. Don’t tell me truth hurts little girl, because it hurts like hell.” – The Underground, 1986
We all need that kind of real truth bomb from time to time.

“So when things get too tough. And your chin is dragging on the ground. And even down looks up, bad luck, we can show you a good time. And we don’t charge nothin’ (nothin’ at all).” – Chilly Down, 1986
A good reminder of what it really takes to be happy. Spoiler alert: it’s free.

“Good times, bad moves.” – Chilly Down, 1986
My AIM away message and OG Facebook “About Me” quote all through college.

“Who knows? Not me. We never lost control. You’re face to face with the Man who Sold the World.” – The Man Who Sold the World, 1970
Be reminded of our smallness in this universe. There will always be someone or something more in charge than you. Sometimes, we just need to surrender. My AIM away message and early Facebook profile “About Me.” And seriously, the most instantly-happ-ifying song of all time.

“Love is careless in its choosing/Love descends on those defenseless.” – Soul Love, 1972
This is the most universal truth about falling in love ever. I’ve written about how garbage it is to have a “list” of qualifications in seeking a partner. Also, you gotta let your guard down.

“Well come on, well come on. If you think we’re gonna make it, you better hang on to yourself.” – Hang on to Yourself, 1972
This is pretty much the credo of my being and the foundation of the business I run today. No matter what happens with your external circumstances — you have to keep going. Might as well root into that self as closely as you can.

“Oh no love, you’re not alone. You’re watching yourself, but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care. Oh no love! You’re not alone. No matter what or who you’ve been” – Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, 1972
Compassion for the self, above all. Trust that you have support out there.

“And the shame, was on the other side. Oh we can beat them, forever and ever. Then we could be heroes, just for one day.” – Heroes 1997
What could we do if we divorced ourselves from shaming not only others, but ourselves?

“I’m afraid of Americans. I’m afraid of the words. I’m afraid I can’t help it.” – I’m Afraid of Americans, 1997
How I’ve felt so far during the lead up to 2016 presidential election.

I could go on and on. This article could easily be thousands of words, or me extemporaneously speaking for hours. (If you want to riff on Bowie stuff today, feel free to email me). I realize it was a risk writing it since I may be outpacing our demographic here. However, these words have guided and impacted the last quarter century of my life so fiercely and positively. And honestly, I am also too sad to come up with any original today, so I hope you enjoy some words from someone infinitely more wise than I.

Image via Candice C. Cusic Photography

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Caroline Gould is a personal branding expert and career consultant based in Washington, D.C. Her signature program is called Self Discovery School. She also writes a weekly advice column on Post Grad Problems. Submit your question or find out more on

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