Anthony Spadafore : Pathfinders Biography

Anthony A. Spadafore

Career Design Expert : Washington DC Metro Area : Anthony Spadafore 

My path as a career design and choice scientist began in the Washington, DC area when I woke up one morning back in 1989 and realized that my career as a electrical engineer was terribly unfulfilling. Although I was making good living in telecomm, I was bored out of mind and had little desire to grow in the electrical engineering profession. Just a few years out of college, I realized that I landed in the wrong career path and wondered how the heck I made such a lousy decision.

In trying to solve my problem, I became acutely aware of the widespread pretension of career happiness in the workplace—I was not the only one who was comfortable, but quietly miserable. I dove deep into the field of organizational behavior to get to the bottom of why most people hate their work, yet keep drudging along for decades.

I wiggled my way into the inner circle of some really cool executives of a Fortune 100 company in the Washington, DC area and convinced them to let a couple dozen people switch careers into positions outside their field of formal training. This was a big leap into the unknown for them, but they were fascinated by the prospects. Once the project launched, all sorts of senior managers jumped in to volunteer as mentors and the career changers were set loose to create their own custom-made career paths within the company. It was immediately obvious that this was something that people wanted to be a part of. All their pent up, misdirected energy was suddenly focused and unleashed. Mostly on their own time, the participants started looking for ways to grow the business, improve processes and fix problems they found. And they did all this without financial incentives.

During this project we persuaded executives across the company to let the walls down between departments. Interestingly, these executives really did value people’s natural potential more than their credentials, they just didn’t have a language for it. What the heck is natural ability? For example, there was an engineer who was really cut out to be a marketing guy. A finance guy was tinkering like engineer in his free time, and an administrator had a knack to be public relations spokesperson. One guy, a mid-career computer engineer, turned out to be a natural born entrepreneur; his proposal and project brought in a multi-million dollar contract and he got to run it as the program manager. After the first year of similar successes, the division general manager said to me, “What the f@#k did you do to these people.” He had never seen such commitment and well-directed passion. The HR department said the word got out about the project, they were suddenly swamped with calls for career change advice. It blew their minds that so many employees were willing to admit, “I think I’m in the wrong career.”

We called this effort “The Intrapreneur Program.” At the heart of it was coaching people to discover their natural talents or innate abilities. Regardless of where they went to school, the young and mid-career professionals I worked with had a gut sense that they were probably in the wrong career; their instincts were right. Our work was groundbreaking in its day and was written up in a feature article for American Society for Training and DevelopmentThe Search For Meaning at Work. From there, my career path took a big turn. My mentors went to bat and opened doors to let me create a position as the company’s first career change consultant. I completed transformed my engineering career into something I made up for myself.  

Through my career coaching work along the way I discovered why such smart people are so unhappy in their careers. Without the know-how to make well-informed choices, many say they had never chosen their career but had haphazardly fallen into it. Having a well-suited career seemed like an unattainable fantasy to most of the people I help; common rules of thumb guiding career choices are “It’ll work out later” and “I wanted my parents to be proud.” Others say they did the “practical thing,” they were looking for a sure bet. I can relate to these well trodden attitudes and beliefs about what a career success is supposed to look like, I got started on that same road. 

As a career coach for 20 years, I’ve been researching why career choices are so difficult to make. Today, studies find that workplace engagement has gotten worse. Only 13% of people worldwide really like their work. We like to blame management for terrible practices but this is only half the story. The other half is on us. When we are mismatched with our work we’re like a cat stuck up a tree. Although the cat can hang on it’ll never thrive as well as the naturally talented tree acrobat, the squirrel. Today’s workplaces are full of cats that don’t know they’re cats. They think they are squirrels because they have advanced degrees in tree climbing. Deep down, many tell me they feel like their pretending and are afraid of being “found out.” This unnamed “career mismatch problem” inspired me and it became a life’s work to tackle it.

To find a solution to this problem I have studied and integrated the fields of human behavior, evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, neuroscience, neuroeconomics, behavioral economics, and the social sciences to develop ways to effectively help people understand what they are—by nature, and how to make better long-term career and life choices.

My objective of fostering people’s untapped innate potential was completely realized with the mentorship of Nick Lore, best-selling career choice author, career coaching guru, and pioneer of the career coaching field. He was really the first guy to invent the idea that you can custom “design” your career back in the early 80s, way before its time. In 2005, Nick invited me to cowrite his second book, Now What?, where I brought my systems engineering background to further develop the career design process. I also served as a consultant on both editions of his first book, The Pathfinder.

Other really cool mentors and teachers who have influenced my life’s work include Rob Creekmore, organizational psychology guru at Mitre; Tara Brach, psychologist and author of Radical Acceptance; Jerry Harvey, professor of organizational behavior at George Washington University and author of The Abilene Paradox; and Rosie, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, master swimmer and zen dog.

Today, Alexandria, VA-based Pathfinders is rated by colleagues as one of the best career coaching firms in the Washington, DC area. I coach clients from all over the world to design and choose a career they’ll excel in. I conduct research, consult and write career advice articles, and I am the coauthor of Now What?, a young person’s career choice guide.


Anthony A. Spadafore

» Contact:  Career Coach, Washington DC area

Pathfinders is an established independent associate of Rockport Institute, a small team of pioneers committed to developing world-class career choice technology.

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