INSTANDA Life Moments | Meet Joan Mc Mahon

Posted on 12th April 2023

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INSTANDA Life Moments | Meet Joan Mc Mahon

Posted on 12th April 2023

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INSTANDA Life Moments | Meet Joan Mc Mahon

One month on from INSTANDA’s ‘Life Moments’ Ski trip to Italy, we hear first-hand from Software Engineer Joan Mc Mahon, about her experiences and insights, and the valuable lessons she learned along the way.

I had always wanted to try skiing but growing up in Ireland it's not that common. Then, later in life, my partner had been on the black slopes a long time before we met and, living in the UK, we tended to crave holidays in the sun.

I am not well-coordinated. Not wanting to look foolish in front of my work colleagues I had some lessons in Milton Keynes Snozone, in advance. I was glad I did that and could skip figuring out the basics on the slopes - what it is like to put on the boots and the skis and to actually, well, ski! Being on the ski slopes (even the baby slopes) is very different, with much more space to ski, to learn and in my case (I won't lie) to fall over! The setting is breath-taking - from the wide expanses of the snow-white slopes, lined by snow dappled green pines and decorated with people in bright colours, sliding gracefully by, to the craggy mountain tops in the distance, sometimes shrouded in mist and cloud, at other times piercing a bright blue sky.

People on the slopes are happy to be on holiday or working in a beautiful location with people who are happy, and this seems to seep into the air. Those working on the lifts and in the bars and restaurants were warm, friendly and helpful. The atmosphere was very supportive. On the first morning a lot of the experienced skiers in our group gave up time to help those who had never skied before and on evenings out I repeatedly heard people asking one another how they were doing and offering practical advice and encouragement. I learnt quickly that if you can't stop it is very easy to bail out to the side without hurting yourself. When I struggled to get my skis back on, I was rescued twice by two different off duty ski instructors who recognised the logo on the ski gear we had hired.

On the first day I had a ski lesson with Pedro (Development Lead and my boss – go Team Stark!) Roksana, (QA Manager) and Helen (Marketing Lead). It was nice to see everyone improve over the course of the lesson and to bond over the triumphs and frustrations of the learning experience and the attitude of our ski instructor to teaching - just a little bit more ‘Wild West’ than we are used to in the UK! Learning together is a great way to get to know one another and develop friendships. It's impossible not to let your barriers down when you are all in a jumble of skis together on the ground or someone has just stopped and helped you back to your feet. The other three were skiing down the slopes with control by the end of the day, but I was really struggling to turn right and had become far too friendly with the fence on the left of the run.

On day two I hung out with Sam (Software Test Engineer, also Team Stark!) and Aman (Client Delivery EMEA - PM) at the top of the baby slopes, just finding my feet and killing time before my next lesson. I was a little shaky, having finished the previous day a bit too tired and with a few too many falls. Sam was the bravest of us and the first to head off down the slope. My second ski lesson was a huge success and by the end of it I was turning right and left and had skied down three different sections of blue without any spills. I was on a high! Post lunch at base camp (The Yeti) where you could always find someone in the group stopped for food or a hot chocolate, I headed back out with Roksana, who was trying to fix a turn in one direction - I thought she was skiing like a pro!

All the beginner skiers were physically tired and planning on sightseeing and taking it easy on day three. Somehow, I got talked into going back up by multiple people - from Derek (COO) in the lift on the way down, Tim (CEO) at dinner, Helen and Russell (Senior Platform Support Analyst) in the bar later that night and Rocio (UI Lead) who when I opened my door in the morning was standing outside ready to knock. I couldn't help but laugh! Rocio, who was learning to snowboard, and I kept one another company throughout the morning, originally only planning to stay on the slopes for two hours, but in the end you couldn't drag either of us off. She also talked me into the last terrifying but rewarding run of the trip, for which I am very grateful!

I wasn't sure what sort of toll skiing would take on me physically and was pleasantly surprised to find that I had energy to keep on going. Despite being someone who spends their day desk bound, I am active outside of work. I know some of the other beginners found it more tiring. I had heard that it was very tough on your knees, but as someone who plays a lot of football, I didn't have any issues. Even so, it was always a joy to take off my heavy ski boots at the end of the day and feel like I was walking on the moon!

The night life was fun too! On the first night out, we broke into smaller groups which was a nice low-key way to get to know people and on the following two nights we had restaurant bookings for the whole group of twenty-three people. It was great to hear about the progress everyone was making and to hear stories of people taking time to help those a level below them to progress. With the black slopes closed due to a lack of snow, some of the more experienced skiers even went off piste. Across the group, everyone was challenging themselves!

Taylor (IT Support Analyst) and Henry (Senior Platform Support Analyst) were celebrating birthdays while we were away, which added to the party atmosphere - we signed cards and wore loud shirts to mark the occasion. After the meals, some people went back to the hotel, others went on to a late-night bar. The keenest skiers in the group were up early for breakfast and back on the slopes on the first ski lifts at 08:30. There were plenty of people breakfasting later, if you fancied a more leisurely start. Over the course of the four-day trip and without really trying I spent time with everyone who attended.

Challenging yourself can be extremely rewarding. Learning a new skill is exciting and requires bravery as there can be a certain amount of failure before success. Learning a new skill like skiing or snowboarding has an extra element of danger. They are classed as extreme sports. It might not be very extreme on the blue slopes, but it certainly felt extreme to me as a beginner. Getting up and trying again after having a bad fall or having a bad day, facing your fear and pushing through it until you find a measure of success, builds resilience. Looking around and seeing your friends and colleagues doing the same, builds something else. I'm not sure what words to put on it. Mostly, I felt proud and hopeful.

When I signed up for the trip, I wasn't very sure what to expect, but I was a little apprehensive about spending so much time away, with people I didn't know, doing something I had never done before and might very well be awful at. My fears, as fears often are, were unfounded. Everyone I spoke to was lovely and getting to know so many of my colleagues - getting a real idea of who they were and building friendships - was for me one of the highlights of the trip. As for being bad at skiing, well I'm afraid I was to start with - right up to the point at which I started to get it. About half the group was learning to ski or snowboard, so I was not alone. I always knew that if I got the hang of skiing I would enjoy it, but my imagination wasn't quite prepared for how beautiful it was or the sheer joy of skiing down a slope and controlling your speed with subtle movements, knowing as you commit to your turn and push past the point where you are going faster than you are comfortable with, a simple change in your balance will bring you back under control. My final run of the trip, all the way down the chair lift route - a run that only the day before had complete terrified me - was exhilarating!

I believe that the relationships we all built and the memories we made on the trip will be something we take into our working relationships, and I believe these will help us bring out the best in one another and drive us to achieve more than we might otherwise have.

We all work remotely and while I love that and wouldn't change it I cannot value highly enough the opportunity this trip gave me to get to know people across the business or the opportunity it gave me to try something new and out of the ordinary. Spending time with such a lovely group of people, seeing their achievements and enjoying my own and seeing how supportive everyone was, has enriched my life and inspired me! I would recommend the experience to anyone. It made me very proud to work at INSTANDA!

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