10 lessons for nonprofits I learned from getting a vasectomy

[Image description: A golden pair of scissors, lying on the ground, holding a beige twine of some sort. Wow, this image is actually relevant to the topic at hand, while being both suggestive and yet not graphic. But I am sure I will stay up wondering if I should have used a picture of a baby animal. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Last week, I got a vasectomy. Normally I would not talk about highly personal stuff like this, but there are lots of guys who are still squeamish about this simple and relatively painless procedure, so I am trying to help normalize it by being public about it. We dudes should do our part in family planning, and getting a vasectomy is a great option, as it is extremely effective while less intrusive and with fewer complications than what women have to go through. As this is a nonprofit blog, however, I am going to extrapolate my experience into lessons for all of us in the sector. So here are the lessons:

  1. The anticipation of something painful is often more painful than the thing itself: Though my partner and I had decided a while ago on the vasectomy, it took me over a year to actually go through with it. Some of this was because of my schedule (The Expanse Season 3 was not going to watch itself!), but truthfully, it seemed painful, so I kept procrastinating. However, the vasectomy wasn’t bad at all. It was certainly less painful than most grant applications or annual galas. It was 30 minutes total, with the worst part being the ten seconds of anesthesia injections. Just like getting dental work done, but…lower. If you have a difficult conversation to have, decision to make, or action to take, it may be best to get it over with. Chances are, the dread and anxiety you feel are much worse than whatever you have to do.   
  2. Taking time to develop strong, lasting relationships: As my partner was busy taking care of our kids, I relied on my long-time friend and colleague, the hilarious James Lovell (Director of Development and Advancement at Neighborhood House), to drive me to and from the appointment. James had his vasectomy a few months ago and has been cracking jokes about it ever since. You know you have a good friend when they’re willing to accompany you at 7am to your vasectomy, and then buy you food while you’re on the couch. Relationships and community take intentional work to build, but they pay off. With free food.  
  3. Sometimes it’s better to not know stuff: Because I am curious about everything, I thought about watching the whole procedure, maybe with the help of a mirror. But then I thought that some things are better left unknown. The lesson for our sector is that oftentimes we reveal too much information when it makes no sense, like the ED who asks the board for permission to give staff a day off. (This is not the board’s role; they do not need to know this). The desire to know everything leads to micromanagement and perceived lack of trust. Figure out when you must know things, and when you should trust people. This does not have to go against the importance of facing truth head-on, or being transparent.
  4. The right resources make things go a lot smoother: After the procedure, once the anesthesia wears off, you do feel for the rest of the day like someone had punched you in the groin and stomach. Or, like you got a grant rejection. Bags of frozen peas are very helpful, even though it is painful to waste them (because no one wants vasectomy peas, I found out). Don’t skimp on them and try to use a forgotten, freezer-burned bag of edamame or something, trust me. We nonprofits are trained to be frugal and to do more with less, etc., but often that just sets us back. When we have the right resources, we can produce better work more efficiency. We need to invest in staff and operations.
  5. Rest and recovery allow us to be more creative and innovative: It usually only takes a day or two to recover. I spent that time bingeing BoJack Horseman on Netflix, a hilarious show about a depressed anthropomorphic horse. But it was nice to take a long mental break. Most of us suck at taking vacations and general time off. But they are critical for us to do our best thinking and strategizing. During my time off, for example, I thought about “Vegsectomy,” an app that sends bags of frozen vegetables to people who are recovering from vasectomies. See, brilliant ideas like that are possible when you allow your brain and body some rest.
  6. Don’t let people jump on you: Several colleagues warned me on the NAF Facebook page about small children jumping on your lap and setting back the recovery time. I was vigilant, but not enough, and both the six-year-old and three-year-old landed some hits. The lesson from this is that our work can be easily derailed by others. From everyday things like coworkers distracting us when we have stuff to do, to more major stuff like partner orgs or community members requesting things that may be outside our mission or strategies. Be aware of who may be derailing your work, and wear a metaphorical athletic cup for protection.
  7. Make sure to have back-up plans. It takes several weeks before the vasectomy is effective. Until then, it’s important to continue with other forms of birth control. There are many stories of folks who get snipped only to end up with a baby or two because they didn’t follow directions. The lesson or all of us is to follow instructions, but also to have back-ups in place. For instance, you may have an amazing board or staff member. But what happens if that person leaves? Think about redundancy of duties, and succession planning.
  8. Data an evaluation can be annoying but they are vital: After a few weeks of getting the vasectomy, it’s important to get tested to ensure you’re actually infertile. No one looks forward to this process. But just like data, evaluation, and the associated reports can be time-consuming and occasionally irritating, our work is most effective when we have the latest, most accurate information.
  9. Being freed of worries leads to better outcomes. There are many misconceptions about vasectomies, such as that it might affect desire or performance. Research shows that it does, but in positive ways. Freed of having to worry about pregnancies, many folks report improved satisfaction. The clear and obvious lesson for this is obviously…funders need to give Multi-Year General Operating Dollars (MYGOD). Freed of having to play Funding Sudoku, we can all focus on our work, which will lead to improved outcomes.
  10. Cis-men should acknowledge our privilege and do our part: I’ve been really lucky to have a partner who has given birth to two amazing babies. She has done more than her fair share in our family planning. This reflects the unequal burden women bear in our sector, where there is still vast pay disparity, where women outnumber men and yet men still hold a disproportionate share of top leadership positions. We dudes need to think of this often, acknowledge the privilege we have, and do our part to advance gender equity, both personally and professionally.

Thanks for reading this all the way through, and not just a…snippet. For anyone thinking of getting a vasectomy but is ambivalent, remember that it’s quick, not nearly as painful as most grant applications, recovery is fast, and you get a great excuse to just be on the couch. And, as my friend James says, it may be a simple procedure, but it does make a vas deferens.

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