June 8, 2023

You Can Have a Work Life Balance and Still be Hardworking

One of the hardest lessons I have learned as a young lawyer is the importance of having a work life balance. Let’s face it, attorneys are competitive by nature. We argue for a living. We always want to win, and we want to be the best. We spent years in school to get to where we are today. For most of us, that entailed many sleepless nights studying and having our lives revolve around our education and career goals for as long as we could remember. I know I cannot be the only one who looked forward to the day that I would graduate from law school, pass the bar exam, and finally start working. I honestly thought after all of that, I wouldn’t be nearly as stressed anymore. However, I soon realized that was not the case by any means.

When I graduated from law school and passed the bar exam, I went back to my small hometown in Southwest Virginia to practice law. I chose to do so not only because I loved my hometown and the people there, but also because I thought working at a small firm in a small town would be less stressful than working at a large firm in a city. During my first six months of practice, I found myself often working through lunch, staying late at the office, taking work home with me, responding to emails at all hours of the night, checking my email on the weekends, and never taking a day off. Eventually, I was burnt out and my mental health was at an all-time low. I sometimes dreaded the thought of going into work, which was absurd considering I was doing exactly what I had wanted to do since I was a little girl. How could it be that I had finally achieved one of my lifelong goals, but I was still extremely stressed out and ultimately unhappy? I realized through therapy that I needed to establish a better work life balance.

At that point, I made the conscious decision to eat lunch every day, stop taking work home with me, not respond to emails after work, stop checking my email on the weekends, and use my vacation days. This was not an easy task for me as I was afraid that I would no longer be described as “hardworking,” which is something I always took pride in. I eventually changed the settings in my phone so that I would not receive work email notifications in an effort to not be tempted to work during my personal time. I also discussed my struggle with my boss, and he was more than understanding. He even went to the extent of allowing me to work remotely each Friday and have one mental health day per quarter. As time went on, all of these changes helped me tremendously. Establishing a healthy work life balance allowed me to truly enjoy my job and feel better as a person overall.

My personal life eventually led me to apply for a job at a firm in a nearby city. I was hesitant about applying for the position because it was in the city, and I was happy at my current job. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to have the same type of work life balance there. During my interview, I was upfront about my desire to continue having a work life balance and inquired as to what it would be like there. To my surprise, that firm also understood and respected the need for having a work life balance. I was ultimately offered the position and accepted it. Once I started the new job, I struggled to make sure that I didn’t fall back into my old bad habits because I wanted to do my best, make a good impression, and continue to be seen as “hardworking.” However, I had to force myself from day one to take a lunch break every day, not work during my personal time, and not stay late at the office. I can honestly say it is still hard to set those boundaries with myself sometimes, but it is ultimately worth it and having people around me who support me in that decision makes it a lot easier.

I know that sometimes things come up where you may be on a deadline, and it may be necessary to take work home or stay late at the office. Things happen every now and then, and that is okay as long as you are not making it a habit. As young lawyers, we want to be successful, and success usually comes with hard work. However, I am here to tell you that you can have a work life balance and still be hardworking. If you already have a good work life balance, keep doing what you’re doing. If you do not have a good work life balance, I encourage you to set boundaries in order to establish one before you feel burnt out. I also encourage you to be open with your employer about your need for a better work life balance. If your employer is not understanding, please know that there are other employers out there who do understand the importance of having a work life balance. Once you have a good work life balance, everything else will fall into place and success will come.

About the Authors


A native of Patrick County, Virginia, Melanie L. Kendrick graduated from Patrick County High School and Patrick & Henry Community College with an associate’s degree from the dual enrollment program. Melanie continued her education at Virginia Tech where she double majored in criminology and sociology and minored in peace studies and violence prevention. In 2019, she graduated from Virginia Tech, magna cum laude, with her bachelor’s degree in sociology. Following her undergraduate studies, Melanie attended Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, North Carolina. During her time in law school, Melanie interned with Schneider & Williams, P.C. in Stuart, Virginia, and the Public Defender’s Office in Martinsville, Virginia. Melanie obtained her juris doctor from Elon University School of Law in December 2021. Following passage of the Virginia bar exam in April 2022, Melanie began her career as an Associate Attorney at Schneider & Williams, P.C., where she primarily practiced family law and civil litigation. In April 2023, Melanie moved to Danville, Virginia after accepting a position as an Associate Attorney with Southern Virginia Legal PLLC, where she focuses her practice on general business law and estate planning.

She is a member of the Virginia State Bar, Virginia Bar Association, Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, and serves on the Board of Governors for the Virginia State Bar Young Lawyers Conference.

In her spare time, Melanie enjoys reading, playing the piano, hiking, kayaking, crafting, and playing with her dog and cat.