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What Luke Perry Can Teach Us About Navigating Our Own Careers

How to move forward when going back to West Beverly isn't an option

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Snap/REX/Shutterstock (390866dw)
FILM STILLS OF 'BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 - TV' WITH 1991, LUKE PERRY IN 1991
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Editorial use only Mandatory Credit: Photo by Snap/REX/Shutterstock (390866dw) FILM STILLS OF 'BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 - TV' WITH 1991, LUKE PERRY IN 1991 VARIOUS

This week’s news of the untimely passing of Luke Perry, has left me heartbroken.  Like many others, Beverly Hills 90210 was our unofficial guide for all that comes with being a teenager in a time before cell phones and influencers, with the question “Brandon or Dylan?” often functioning as the gateway conversation to talking about boys and all that went with that time of life.

Upon the news of his death, I went through a click spiral, expecting to find out that this was just a dramatic cliff-hanger and the one-and-only Dylan McKay was still alive. But in reading about what brought him to Hollywood and his career since 90210 went off the air almost twenty years ago, there are lessons in his life that we can learn from.

We all know the challenges of our fast-evolving world of work as changing behaviors and technology have impacted the way we learn, are entertained and engage with one another. 

That being said, all too often we live in the past, hungering for glory days of yesterday – when Andrea was Editor of the West Beverly Blaze, Dylan and Brenda were not yet a part of a love triangle with Kelly and there was no question about Donna Martin graduating.  Or when people did all their shopping in actual stores, when print magazines were cultural cornerstones or when the only way to hail a ride was to put your arm up on the sidewalk.  But people graduate, shows go off the air, industries evolve.  As the human component of these transitions, we get to choose with how we go with it.

I don’t have any idea of what it is like evolving your career after playing the iconic bad boy of the 1990’s, dealing with global fame or the internal journey Perry experienced over his too short 52 years of life.  But, in consuming just about every news story as it pops into my feed the last few days, here are a few things to take away from the life of Luke Perry.

Celebrate where you’ve been. “I’m going to be linked with him until I die, but that’s actually just fine. I created Dylan McKay. He’s mine,” Luke Perry once commented.  Don’t forget to take a moment and appreciate the experiences you’ve had.  Even as you look to redefine your role in our current landscape, pat yourself on the back for what you’ve created and what you’ve been a part of.

But then put it in the past, because that’s where it belongs.  We can’t live for yesterday. Growing up in Minneapolis may have helped Brenda and Brandon with the core values they needed to navigate West Beverly, but there was no moving back.  Same with Luke Perry.  After 90210 went off the air in 2000, he had to take chances with the roles he took.  Remembering where he came from but also trying on parts likely less comfortable to see where he could go next.  Some things worked, some things didn’t.

As Luke Perry said, “When my time here is up, I don’t want to look back and see that I didn’t do anything. And by that, I mean I didn’t have any effect on anything else. I see a lot of people that let life happen to them. And I want to happen to my life. I don’t want my life to happen to me.”

Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.  Fans mourning his death are not just those of my generation, but those of the generation behind us as well.  By reinventing himself as Fred Andrews, the father of another icon, Archie Andrews, many teens are remembering Luke Perry as the wisdom-sharing father figure he played on Riverdale.  According to those who saw him in action, he took the role very seriously, committed to it being an experience beyond just clever casting.  I think we can all agree, it worked.

Mourning a celebrity is a weird experience.  I know nothing of who Luke Perry was as a man, although as fellow cast members and creative partners tweet their condolences, he seems to have been the real deal. My heart goes out to those who will miss him at Thanksgiving dinner and when they go to text their father, brother, son, fiancé, friend for whatever it is they would have shared with him.  For the rest of us, I’m just grateful our technology has evolved and I get to binge 90210 on my cell phone.

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