“Chance” is the word we use to describe the probability of an outcome, or to name those unforeseeableevents that often shape our lives more than anything planned, predicted, or even wished for.
Both the chances of fate, and the taking of chances on uncertain endeavors have started me on the road to building a new, social network-based young gay men’s HIV prevention project. First, there were the tragic chances that alerted me to the scope of the problem – namely, friends of mine not even old enough to buy a beer, already stricken with HIV and all the attendant treatments, side effects, fears, and doubts. I had been vaguely aware of the occasional alarm bells going off about a resurgence of HIV among young gay men, but these chances are what pushed me to learn just how deep, severe, and under-addressed the problem was, and gave me a personal stake in wanting to turn back the tide.
Once I had in my head the thought to take action, there were chances I took in reaching out colleagues and old acquaintances for advice to shape my vague initial ideas. I ran the risk of rejection, burnt bridges, or outright theft of ideas. But those are the sort of chances you have to take, unless you want to try to take on the whole world by yourself. Not everyone I turned to for help was forthcoming, but that’s where another chance changed everything.
I stopped into a dive bar for a friend’s birthday, and whilst waiting at the bar, struck up an idle conversation with one of the other patrons. He was, it turns out, an old hand at doing social work with HIV, with the contacts and wisdom that comes with over 20 years of working to alleviate issues like poverty, suffering, and AIDS around the world. When I pitched him the broad outlines of what I wanted to do, he offered his contact information, and his help. I could have never imagined then, but his was the most important contact I made in the entire process of navigating the tricky road from “desire” to “reality.” Through him, I’ve made the contacts and shaped the ideas that will, later this summer, result in the launch of a new, grass-roots effort to combat the surge of new HIV infections in the young gay community.
Pasteur said that, “Chance favors the prepared mind,” and I couldn’t agree more. Almost all of us want to do some good in this world, but for many of us it stays limited to vague notions of things that would be nice – and (hopefully) some donations or volunteering for causes we support. But to actually lead and engage the world as an advocate for a cause, it helps to have a clear and specific vision, and to anticipate the doubts and questions others may have – starting with “why is what you want to do any different from what’s already being done?” But when you have those at the ready in your mind, you’ll be ready to take advantage of the random chances in the world, and be more secure in taking a chance on new efforts, outreaches, and ideas.