August 2022

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, Dr. Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT talks about how she has it all together. NOT.

By Dr. Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT
Director of Medicine / CEO, VETgirl

I have it all together

In the past 3 months, I’ve had multiple veterinary students, veterinary technicians, teammates, and veterinarians come up to me fan-girling (Thank you! Love you back!) and telling me how much they love the fact that I have it all together and “represent.” Well, let me fill you in on a little secret.

I don’t.

Believe it or not, but my life is a sh*tshow. I don’t “have it all.” Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy. I’m blessed. And I’ve worked really hard to get there. But I don’t have it all. I’ve been blessed with an amazing husband, that I met at the age of 38 and married at 40. I was blessed battling infertility and losses with the birth of one healthy child. And I’m slowly figuring out the life hacks of being an efficient, working parent, whether it’s for an infant or older child. I’m blessed that I was able to start  a small business, VETgirl, back in 2012, with fellow criticalist, Dr. Garret Pachtinger, DACVECC. And I’m blessed to have been able to partner with Mars Veterinary Health and onboard an amazing VETgirl team.

But please don’t think that I have it all together.

While it may look like it on the surface, I’m not “all that.”

Life is hard. How our family survived the stress of COVID, I’ll never recall, as I think I’ve blacked it out of my brain. In the first 12 weeks of COVID, I thought my husband and I were bound towards the big “D” (Divorce), as “working from home” with a 3-year-old was apparently pushing us over the edge. Plus, it was still freezing cold (and snowing) in Minnesota in March-April of 2020 (COVID), and we were all cooped up with cabin fever and unable to get outside for a break.

Then, I hired my husband (a project manager) to do part-time work for VETgirl. This was despite warnings from my business partners (e.g., “Are you sure you can work with your spouse as a direct report, because it’s really hard?”). And what we learned was that my husband and I likely started the job talking to each other  the way that HR would normally not allow (not in a sexy, nice way either). I mean, who would have known that your spouse is “that” office mate who leaves all their crap and dirty dishes everywhere (Or, it might be me!?)

Then…people see from the superficial surface of things.

People see me and think that I’m healthy, in shape, a great runner, an all-around-amazing working parent, but in reality, I’m not. For mental health, I have to work out 4-5 days a week for stress relief. For weight maintenance, I have to force myself to run (Hence, “vetgirlontherun.com”), as your metabolism slows down precipitously once you’re over 40. Or 45. Or approaching 50. (In fact, I never started to run until 30-years-old, and couldn’t run past 2 miles!) I’m the world’s slowest runner (I’m happy with a 10 minute/mile!). I play ice hockey, but if you check me (or bump me lightly), I fall right over, as I’m the weakest skater on my team. I play ultimate frisbee, but I drop about 25% of the discs thrown to me (some might say 30%).

As for my mental health?

Most people don’t know that I battled with suicide ideation back during my ECC residency at PennVet (Here’s a link to a really old Veterinary Team Brief article about it).

Picture of Impaired veterinarian suicide article by Justine Lee

As for work-life balance? Most people don’t realize that it took me 40+ years to LEARN TO SAY NO for work-life-balance. And most people don’t know that I battle with major workaholism (Hey, it’s genetic, and I get it from my Chinese immigrant family of workaholics!). (In reality, I call it “workafrolic.” I work really hard on things I love, that I’m passionate about, and that bring me joy).

Want evidence that I don’t “have it all together?” Things people don’t know about me, that I’m sure my husband would be happy to share as evidence that I don’t have it all together?

  • The more stressed I am, the higher the clothing pile on top of the bedroom dresser. I’m a hot mess without a housecleaner too.
  • I can’t cook. My amazing husband does 90% of the cooking. I can follow recipes like a champ, and love to bake, but day-to-day cooking? Hello, instant noodles (And for the toddler? Soy sauce noodles. It’s an ancient Chinese secret for every working parent – kids love it. Boil Asian noodles. Pour some soy sauce and sesame oil. Cut the noodles with a kitchen scissors. Voila.).
  • Since working from home, I wear pretty much the same comfortable long-sleeve t-shirt and Figs scrub bottoms EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Since we have a young kid, we do laundry pretty frequently, so I alternate between this above outfit and my gym clothes.
  • I often take Zoom conference calls immediately post HIIT gym class and throw a VETgirl sweatshirt over my dirty self to look presentable. I don’t even bother to wash my face or shower or brush my teeth before, because who has time for that?
  • I’m that obnoxious person on the Zoom call who still eats and drinks while on camera, as who has time! Thankfully, it’s via Zoom, since I’m addicted to everything bagels with garlic & herb cream cheese.
  • Since working from home, I either brush my teeth at 7AM or forget until 3PM, when I’m getting ready to pick up my kid from daycare.
  • When parents see me at daycare pick up, I’m in the same long-sleeve t-shirt and scrub pants EVERY. AFTERNOON.
  • I’m a eco-friendly, crunchy, earth-loving hippie. Even the VETgirl staff mock me when I bring home all the dexmedetomidine/CPR wheel plastic bags post-exhibiting to save them from the landfills (and from turtles accidentally swallowing them and getting FBO since plastic bags look like jelly fish!). It drives my husband nuts as we have hundreds of plastic bags (POOP BAGS, folks!) and I scream at him if I find them in the trash.
  • In my fast, hyper-efficient ways, I’ve made the mistake of talking to my infant the way I talk to my dog, since I was trying to use less words and shorter “commands.” Now, my 5-year-old says “Come. Sit. Color with me, mom.” Likewise, I get “Less talking, more coloring” coming out of his mouth too. Oops.
  • I frantically try to work on my laptop and crank out work for the 1 (ok, maybe 1.5 hours) of screen time that my kid has after dinner. In reality, I should like just snuggle up against him and stop working…
  • My hubby and I fight. About parent care (He’s an amazing dad). About my insane travel schedule. About who’s walking the dog, and why isn’t he being walked more. About child discipline. About family drama. About life. But we’re committed to making it work.
  • I spend half my day doing administrative things… like booking flights and doing reimbursements and submitting RACE forms to submitting payroll to editing grammatical mistakes to herding speakers (Why, oh, why, can’t you turn in your speaker forms on time, lol?! Oh wait, that’s me!).

Justine Lee family

Why am I telling you this?

Because, I don’t have it all together.

My life isn’t “all that.” I don’t really have it “all together.” On a day-to-day basis, it’s not sexy. But I’m just trying to survive, spend good quality life with those who I love, and try to elevate the quality of vet med worldwide while taking care of my team and myself at the same time.

And it’s important for you all to know this, so we extend grace to each other. On the surface, it may look like some of us “have it all together.” But in reality, we are all in survival mode. Let’s lift each other and help support EACH OTHER. Because we’ve got this, especially when we’ve got each other’s backs. After all, #vetmed #life #parenting #veterinarylife takes a village.

Sending you good vibes and love,

JLEE signature

Here, a helpful video on the “myth of happiness” that I found really helpful…

Myths of Happiness

  1. Thank you for being so vulnerable and open. That takes a particular kind of courage. You are so valued and appreciated!

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