Source | LinkedIn : By Dustin McKissen
Over the holidays I read a lot about Thomas “Tommy the Cork” Corcoran.
Never heard of him?
Tommy the Cork’s story is, for the most part, lost to history—but he was instrumental in creating the modern economy. Corcoran was one of several young lawyers drawn to Washington D.C. to work on the New Deal after Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1932, and his talent for drafting legislation became evident right after his arrival in the capitol.
Corcoran played a lead role in drafting the Securities Act of 1933 (the first national law regulating the sale and exchange of securities), the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (creating the SEC), and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (which eliminated child labor, established the 40-hour work week, and created a national minimum wage). Corcoran also served as one of FDR’s most effective lobbyists, helping ensure the passage of countless pieces of legislation, including the Social Security Act of 1935.
So, what was Tom Corcoran’s role in the government?
Attorney General? White House Chief of Staff?
For most of the 1930s Corcoran’s title was Assistant General Counsel in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), a government agency in existence between 1932 and 1957. The RFC provided financial support to local and state governments, as well as banks, railroads, and mortgage associations.
In other words, Tom Corcoran had an effect on our economy and our lives that lasts to this day, and he did it all with a fairly crappy title (at least by the standards of power in Washington D.C.) while working for a pretty obscure government agency.
Tom Corcoran’s title didn’t stop him from changing the world.
And your title shouldn’t stop you from changing the world, either.
I Didn’t Feel It In My Bones
All I’ve ever really wanted in my career was influence. I wanted people to listen to what I had to say. For most of my career I thought getting people to listen required a certain title—once I was “Chief (something) Officer”, my opinion would matter.
Then I became Chief Operating Officer of a trade association, which was quickly changed to Deputy CEO, a weird hybrid of a title but one I thought meant I finally had what I always wanted: influence.
Even with the word “Deputy” in front of it, my business card still had the magic letters I thought would make people listen to me. I was now a (deputy) CEO.
That’s not what happened. In fact, in some ways my time as Deputy CEO was one of the most frustrating, least influential periods of my career. I wasn’t happy. I lived in the shadow of a pretty powerful CEO (it turned out the word “Deputy” really mattered). More importantly, I just didn’t have any passion for the work we did.
To be completely honest, I really didn’t care. I wasn’t engaged. I never felt the work in my bones—ever. Not once.
And it’s impossible to have influence when you don’t feel it in your bones.
You Are Not Your Business Card
I don’t really have a title anymore, not the way I used to. I own a small consulting company, but a big part of how a lot of people know me is through my writing here on LinkedIn, or through my writing on Inc. and CNBC.
When people at a holiday party ask the standard question, “What do you do?”, I don’t have an easy answer. I do a lot of things—but for the first time, I feel my work in my bones. I feel like the work I do matters, and those feelings don’t come from a title someone else gave me.
Deriving your self-worth and potential for influence from a title someone else gave you is like asking permission to matter.
It’s asking permission to make a difference.
You matter, regardless of what it says on your business card. You have the potential to make a difference—in your workplace, in your community, in the world—no matter what your answer is when someone asks “What do you do?”
Tommy Corcoran felt the work of the New Deal in his bones—even when he was Assistant General Counsel in an unknown agency. When someone asked Corcoran, “What do you do?” I’m sure his answer wasn’t, “I’m Assistant General Counsel of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.”
It was, “I created the SEC. And kept your kid out of a coal mine.”
And then he probably did the 1938 equivalent of a mic drop.
Your title doesn’t define who you are as a person, as a professional, or as an agent of change. If you feel the work in your bones—as Tommy Corcoran did—the title is a minor technicality, one that will likely change once you start exercising your capacity for influence.