Listening to Boyz II Men and Other Questionable Decisions

I’ve been listening to Boyz II Men lately. This came about from watching The Sing Off, a show on which  Shawn Stockman, one of the boyz, is a judge. I’m in no way excusing my behaviour, just providing a little context. As it turns out, “Motownphilly” is not nearly as bad ass as it seemed when I was eleven. I think the fact that the group performed it on an episode of Full House should have given me a clue.

Even though their sound isn’t quite as gritty as I had originally thought, I was curious as to how a couple of highschoolers from Philadelphia got themselves signed with Motown Records to become one of the most successful R&B groups of all time, even breaking Billboard records set by Elvis Presley. I was interested to read that the boyz started out as a quintet but in 1988, boy five, Marc, left before the group’s first studio recording to pursue a solo career. By 1990, the foursome were international celebrities. Marc was not. He was still in Philly listening to “End of the Road” on his walkman, thinking just how hard it really is to ‘say goodbye to yesterday.’

For some reason, this story of lost opportunity strikes me more than the men who turned down Apple stock in the late 70’s to hold out for pay cheques, and my mom’s cousin Larry who heard about a mustic festival called Woodstock in the summer of 1969, but opted not to go when he awoke to rain the morning of August 15th.

It’s true that those potential billionaires may now wish they had taken a chance on that fledgling computer company and, yes, Larry does wish he hadn’t gone back to bed that day, but these men didn’t gamble on their dreams the same way that Marc did. And in that way, their regretful decisions are incidental to their life stories and not necessarily the fork at two roads diverged in it. 

Those would-be investors didn’t hold out on Steve Jobs because they thought they could build a better computer, something they always aspired to, they just didn’t think they would get their money back. Larry too wasn’t an aspiring musician or anything, he just thought that no one would be going to an outdoor concert in the rain. Marc, though, must have made a calculated decision based on his own ability that changed the entire trajectory of his career. That’s what gets to me. Maybe he had the best voice in the group? Maybe he was the cutest? The most marketable? The most confident? The most well-connected? Maybe he was voted most likely to succeed as an R&B singer in his high-school yearbook? And yet, he wasn’t. Was there an element of (bad) luck at play here? Or is there really such a thing as fate?

When I think about my own life decisions, the notion of luck and fate both comfort and worry me. I want to publish a book, I want to believe that I am destined to write a book. But I need to believe that destiny or not, if I put in the hard work, I’m going to get there. I need to believe that I can harnass all my resolve and potential and achieve my life’s ambition, with or without luck.   

I want to believe in my own power, that I can cultivate an irrepresible pluckiness that precludes failure. Not being inclined to positive thinking or high self-esteem, I have to actively try and hold onto this belief. There are days, though, when my hands feel slippery. On days when the writing is hard and getting down each word is like pulling a tooth, I start to question if I am doing the right thing (or write thing?!). I start to wonder if I have already made choices that have set me down the wrong path. I wonder if I made the wrong decision, if I never should have pursued my life’s dream of becoming a writer. I miss the certainty of law, of knowing, for the most part, what my career was going to look like five, ten, twenty years down the road. And then I start to miss the people I used to work with. I miss getting coffee with the other associates in my group, hanging out in each other’s offices and distracting each other with clothing sites and celebrity gossip links. I miss the guy down the hall who shared my love of Woody Allen and who I could always count on to make me laugh. I miss having lunch with my mentor, enjoying once ordering a cheese plate that was older than I was. I miss his big heart and his ability to assuage my nerves with stories of his own missteps. I miss the woman a couple doors over who always took the time to answer my questions. I loved how strong and forthright she was, how she never minced words. I miss the woman who always had her shit together-her office, her practice, her beautiful twin girls-who was a paragon of perfection to which I will always aspire. And, of course, I miss my pay cheque. Working on a computer with missing keys, including the ‘a,’ ‘ctrl’ and ‘delete,’ I miss that a lot. I miss not having to hi-light a word, select ‘file’ and ‘cut’ in order to get rid of it.  

When I feel myself spiraling into ‘what ifs,’ and ‘should I’s’ or shouldn’t have I’s,’ I ground myself by thinking about everything I have gained the past year. I have gained the company of new, talented people whom I am so blessed to have met. I have gained the joy of doing something I absolutely love, the confidence of going after something I want so badly, and I have gained the satisfaction of knowing that, even if I fail, my deepest regret would have been not even trying. That’s a future I couldn’t live with. Whatever my fate, whether I’m lucky or not, that’s a person I don’t want to be. I want to know that I tried, that I at least failed at my greatest love. Even though he didn’t win four grammys like the other boyz, I think the same holds true for Marc. And it’s good to know, that despite his different path, he still became a man.