Why Winners Win: A Q&A with Robyn Benincasa, SHARE Pittsburgh Keynote

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Robyn Benincasa is a champion in every way possible. She’s an adventure racer, holder of three Guinness World Records, 10-time Ironman triathlete, named a CNN Hero, a San Diego firefighter and a New York Times bestselling author. She has proven herself to be an extreme athlete that doesn’t give up — all while having two bionic metal hips. Read the Q&A with this SHARE Pittsburgh keynote speaker and what attendees can expect to take away during her motivational performance on succeeding against the odds.


What does it mean to “win” in one’s professional life?

Winning is defined by each of us, based on our current circumstances and capabilities. It doesn’t necessarily mean crossing the finish line first. For example, after each of my hip replacements (six in the last 10 years — don’t get me started), a big win was the day I could finally walk across the kitchen without my crutches or cane. In general, I think winning in our professional lives is setting a huge, hairy, crazy goal that we may have never thought possible; building a great team of people who have certain strengths and talents we may not have to help us get there; and putting in the hard work, day after day, to finally cross that finish line. The icing on the cake is when our goals and dreams help others to achieve theirs along the way, too.


What kind of mindset or traits does someone need to win? If these traits don’t come naturally, what can someone do to gain those traits?  

All winners have a few things in common. First, they have a core belief that they are meant to be successful and rely on that belief when the going gets tough. Second, they always have something greater than themselves, something “good” that they need to strive for. People want to do well financially, but they also strive to do good for someone or something else. Winners always have that higher sense of purpose. Most importantly, all winners have GUTS, an acronym for:

G- Going the distance and quietly persevering the day in and day out

U- Unwavering in your patience and faith

T- Taking calculated risks

S- Shattering the norm

In other words, there are two vastly different sides of the coin when it comes to what it takes to win. One side is the day-to-day drive and doing the small things that matter, like planning and preparing to succeed at the highest levels. The other side is that courage to take some risks and do things differently; change the game. In my experience, consistent winners cultivate both sides of their awesomeness. And none of the above is something that you're born with — it’s just hard work, belief and courage. Everyone has access to those things!


In recent years, mainframe professionals have been faced with a skills gap, or a need for younger generations to join the industry. What is your advice for those who need to advocate for the profession and build a community that welcomes newer generations? 

In the quest to build a team that can go the distance in any endeavor, it's really important to ensure that the finish line you are offering is something that’s interesting and compelling to your team members. What can people expect to receive if they help the team win? Is it something they want? The key lies in finding out what younger people want from working with you — resume building, C-suite potential, management roles, helping others? Ask what people are hoping to get out of working with you, and then help them achieve that through your team’s success. 

Also, ask for input from everyone on the team — regardless of their titles or tenure. Younger people want to know that they can make an impact right away based on their talents. In essence, people tend to embrace the things that they themselves helped create. The more input you ask for regarding strategy, goals, tactics, etc., the more ownership you create. 


How did you overcome your biggest challenges and what can we learn from that?

There are challenges that are placed in our path (races, promotions, etc.), and then there are challenges that [just] happen to us. I think winners deal with both of those in similar ways.

To get through the tough times in races or medical/personal setbacks, a lot of what I tell myself comes down to some tried and true advice and beliefs based on my team’s experiences: 

  • Pain is mandatory, suffering is optional. Sometimes you just have to laugh to get through the ludicrous times and realize this is a moment that will bond a team forever — in a great way. 
  • In the hardest times during a race, I walk myself through this scenario: “What story do I want to tell people next week when I’m safe, happy and warm? The story of the girl who quit in her darkest hour? Or the story of the girl who persevered through it all and crossed the finish line? I get to decide this right now. And that decision will affect me for the rest of my life.” When decisions are made from that perspective, you can't help but make the right one.
  • Every time we persevere through really tough times in business or in life, we add another brick to our “confidence wall.” That is, the confidence we have in ourselves, our abilities and our strengths. We get to build that wall with the decisions we make at every turn, especially when the going gets tough. Do we choose the easiest route or to just let ourselves float downstream? Do we jump into the whitewater and swim upstream to get a better outcome? Every time you impress and inspire yourself (which is one of our most important jobs), your confidence wall gets taller and stronger. That’s what I always wish for the people I love — for them to be great builders of their own confidence walls. It's the most important foundation of your life, and the platform on which everything else is built.


What are three takeaways attendees will learn from your session?

My session, “SHARE Superstars,” will leave attendees with a deep understanding of the mindset that propels them and their team members through times of great challenge, change and adversity. Change is really the only thing that’s going to stay the same in our lives, right? Especially in the world of IT. It's really our response to change that dictates our long term success. In my keynote, I share the keys to handling life’s toughest challenges with the grace and class demonstrated by high performance leaders and world class teams.

Attendees will also learn the ways we can inspire everyone on their team (including themselves!) and leave their ego at the start line. It's the heaviest thing in one’s backpack, and you can’t bring it on the race course or to work with you.

I’ll also share how we can create a team of “WE Thinkers” as a means to tackle crazy, challenging goals. Getting closer to the finish line when it comes to audacious goals is very much like climbing a mountain — the closer you get to the peak, the steeper and more dangerous the terrain. In order for you to continue to climb higher than ever before, you have to rope up to other team members who can share one another’s strengths and share one another’s challenges.

Overall, SHARE Pittsburgh attendees will learn some very simple and easily applied “Essential Elements of Extreme Performance” that will propel them and their teammates to the finish line on their next challenging work/life adventure.

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