May 24, 2018

Morphic Fields and Change (Part 2): The Game of Change

rhodes(This isn’t going to make much sense if you haven’t read Part 1 and therefore don’t know what I mean by “morphic field.” If you need to go back and catch up, we’ll wait.)

Lawyer unhappiness has gotten a lot of press, and there are lots of people offering help. Usually, they emphasize either personal or institutional morphic fields, but not both. The former teach individual coping or performance enhancement skills, or offer career counseling. The latter set out to reform the legal institutions they believe are to blame.

Both strategies converge at a single choice: either the lawyer needs to change (focus on the individual’s field), or the lawyer’s environment needs to change (focus on the external field). This choice seems logical, but it’s incomplete, and therefore change based solely on one choice vs. the other won’t last. The problem is that the choice doesn’t recognize that our internal and external morphic fields are interdependent, and therefore change in one means change in the other. If the changes in both fields aren’t compatible, then the result is more dissonance in both of them, and the intended change will fall short.

This dynamic explains why sometimes we try to make change and end up being thwarted by self-sabotage or by external opposition, or both. It also explains why lawyers in solo practice are among the happiest, often citing as the main reason the control they hold (theoretically, at least) over their work/personal life balance.

By contrast, reformers wrestle directly with external morphic fields, such as law school, the bar exam, or the way law firms operate. Reformers derive energy from demonizing the external environment – making IT the problem. If you’re a reformer at heart, this will work for you, but the key is “at heart.” If that’s not where your reform efforts are coming from, then the reformer approach will have the opposite effect: it will take your power away. That’s because an external focus diverts your power away from what YOU need and want, and to divert power in this way is to lose it. (The great reformers also deal internally as well, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Most of us aren’t reformers at heart. For us, the process of creating sustainable change involves articulating our core values and desires, shaping them into goals and intentions, committing to them, and making concerted efforts to change our beliefs and behaviors to make them happen.

Doing all that is a practice: there are skills to learn, drills to run. But then, once we’ve done our reps to change our personal fields, we still need to watch how our external fields respond. The game of change is like any other game: we can practice our part only so much, but once the game starts, it takes on a life of its own, with its own dynamics. If we want to win, we do well to learn not just the fundamentals, but also how to play the game.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is on a mission to help lawyers be happy. No kidding. In his writing, workshops, coaching, and consulting, he helps individuals and organizations to make transformative changes. He leads workshops on change for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. Check out his website at
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