Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Stephen Rynkiewicz, man of letters

I wanted the letter-perfect career. So how did I end up making alphabet soup?

It all started with my first creative writing assignment: drafting my resume. All those years of making up exam answers were preparation for this task. My other college accomplishments were unexceptional, except for building my dorm-room sound system. Yet now was the time to turn my odd assortment of summer jobs and after-class hobbies into signs of upward mobility, at least on paper.

By the end of the page, I was reaching the limits of my BS degree, and the best chance of making my resume look good was finding handsome paper stock. Among the loose ends that filled out that page was a Radiotelephone Operator License, now known in the halls of government as the General Radiotelephone Operator License or GROL. It was proof to the FCC of my minimal competence in Ohm's Law as a college DJ. I set about turning this into proof of my ability to overcome resistance.

Such dizzying spin may have qualified me for only one job: public relations. Luckily, this resume caught the attention of Harold Bergen, Chicago PR executive and recovering engineer, whose daughter is now covering the Olympics for the Trib. Hal wasn't quite sure what a Radiotelephone Operator did, but he liked the sound of it. I am forever grateful that Bergen hired me as a writer in the Midwest office of the Ruder-Finn agency. My job: to represent professional societies for the near-professions.

By this I mean organizations like the International Fabricare Institute, for which I wrote pages of bullet points on laundry and drycleaning, tailor-made for lifestyle magazines. The best tip, of course: Save the tough stuff for a professional drycleaner. Maybe you've never thought of drycleaning as a profession. Think again. The IFI, now the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute, runs a laboratory that tests "Dry Clean Only" instructions. This is a true vocation, to make a sweatshop come clean.

Not only do they dress your family in rayon and linen, your fabric-care professional also drapes his or her name with initials. The institute bestows the credentials CPD (for Certified Professional Dryleaner) and CPW (Certified Professional Wetcleaner, a starchy way of saying launderer). In the garment trade, ED is not erectile dysfunction, and certainly no call for a Viagra prescription. It's the designation for a Certified Environmental Dry Cleaner. Nothing dirty about it.

So you see, the lowly GROL really was a roaring start to my new world of employment. Clients also included the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors, which provided engineers with critical knowledge to keep their projects from blowing up. The National Board (I couldn't quite come to use its initials) provided certification in EB (Electric Boilers), CIB (Cast Iron Heating Boilers) and UM (a particularly sought-after designation these days, Unfired Media).

After representing professional drycleaners and professional boiler inspectors, I was nearly ready to become a professional reporter. What sealed the deal was that I could set type too, thanks to jobs as a Compugraphic and MTSC operator. MTSC is Magnetic Tape Selectric Composer, an early desktop publishing system that if memory serves involved stone knives and animal pelts. This high-tech experience served me well at the Chicago Sun-Times' suburban bureau, where "computer storage" was a pegboard where we rolled up and hung tape from the Teletype machines.

By that point, my resume was beginning to look like Mark Twain's. Young Sam Clemens also started out as a typesetter, and in his 20s he joined a militia, piloted a riverboat and searched for gold. None of those jobs panned out. "By trying, we can easily learn to endure adversity," Twain said. "Another man's, I mean." Certainly at this point I had retained the two characteristics that Twain's guarantee of success: ignorance and confidence.

After gathering credits like GROL and MTSC, reporting solidified my true vocation: collecting acronyms. Journalism's professional society started as a Depauw University fraternity, and when I joined its legacy pledges had managed to keep the greek letters alive. The group was known as the Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi or SPJ,SDX. If you know anything about editors, you know one of them insisted on the comma.

SPJ-comma-SDX was just the umbrella organization for journalism. I also became involved in specialty groups — IRE, NAREE, SABEW, ONA and since I was briefly a college instructor, AEJMC. Plus a few joint broadcast projects with INBA and RTNDA, and awards from the publishers' groups (IPA, NAA, E&P). Trust me, they all stand for something.

My portfolio had expanded far beyond reporting by the time I was assigned a boss who was a PMP. Not that she was pimping for me, although I did need a good word with the general manager. My boss was a Project Management Professional. This was not just a new acronym to conquer, it was a revelation: I could get certified in getting things done!

Newspapers value this skill highly -- notably the new owners of the Tribune, who try to keep projects from being talked to a slow death. They have an acronym for their philosophy, AFDI, which means to actually do it. The F is just for emphasis. With this incentive, and with coaching from the PMO (the Project Management Office), I joined the PMA (Project Management Association) and started networking with software developers, commercial real-estate developers and a few engineers like my sister at Kodak, the film developer.

Finally, to help navigate all these new relationships and new acronyms I initialized one more project: I rejoined Toastmasters International, a group for professionals sharpening their persuasive skills. TM also has its own series of certications in speaking and leadership. Now I can address you now as Stephen Rynkiewicz ACB/CL, member PMA, SPJ....

Hope there's enough space on the business card.

No comments: