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Catching Fireworks

Deborah Henry-Pollard: Creative Coaching


Life Lessons Over Lipstick

Posted on 31 January, 2019 at 5:00 Comments comments (0)


Who have been your major positive influences, who have helped to shape you in ways you never realised?

It is the late 1960s. I am sitting watching my paternal Grandmother, Victoria, putting on her makeup. This is the first time I have been allowed to do so. She will be dead in a few months, so unbeknownst to both of us, it will also be the last time. Grandma is the only woman in my small 8 year old world who wears makeup. She is in her late sixties, but has a timeless glamour with her brilliant red lipstick, hennaed hair, whip thin figure, style and elegance.

Her morning transformation is my first real encounter with what it is to be a ‘glamourous’ type woman. As she applies face powder and tea rose perfume (the aromas of which still conjure her up to me), I ask lots of questions, like why should women wear makeup and worry about their outfits?

“Because,” she says, “a woman should always be ‘finished’. You never know who you are going to meet during the course of a day. It could be the person who could change your life.”

"But," I ask, "why makeup, why stick paint all over your face?"

“Because to get on in this world, a girl has to be seen to be pretty or intelligent.”

Taking my chin in her hand, she looks at me intently and says, “And you, my dear, will have to be very intelligent.”

At the age of 8, none of this means a lot to me (although I know enough not to recount this episode to my mother.) For one thing, I am a tomboy whose greatest ambition is to be a cowboy, and cowboys have never struck me as needing to be either pretty or intelligent. However, as I grow up, reach my late teens and start getting interested in being female, subconsciously I start taking Grandma’s advice. I try to dress as well as my budget will allow and even when I’m being casual, always make sure that I am “finished”. This has stood me in good stead when I have been called to a job interview with 4 hours notice or have met someone at a casual event who turns into a future client. (By the way, I am not saying women 'should' wear makeup - it is about finding your own definition of what gets you ready to meet the world.)

I have also taken the intelligence bit to heart, keeping an open mind and a willingness to learn. When I got the results of the degree I undertook in my 30s, my first thought was for Grandma. I think she realised that I was like her in many ways. She was a strong, self-reliant woman who never let circumstances beat her, who was always looking on the optimistic side and who, if something went wrong, would brush it off and move on to the next thing. Abandoned by her husband and left alone with their baby, she went from crying on finding a coin in the gutter because it meant she could buy food for that night, to owning her own house. She never saw a reason why being a woman would have to stop her doing anything she wanted (although pragmatic enough to know that sometimes, it paid to play by 'the rules' of the time, hence the pretty or intelligent comment).

I think she was aware that I would not, as an 8 year old, get upset and take to heart, negatively, what she had said.

But I do wonder if she knew exactly how much what she said would shape my life and who I am.


Posted on 11 January, 2019 at 0:35 Comments comments (0)

Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.


11 days into January and how are you doing with your New Year’s Resolutions?  That bad, huh?!


Last year, I made a list of things I wanted to do; create more work, learn as much as possible, make new friends and contacts, read, dance, visit galleries, exercise, etc, etc.  I had it all set up with goals, timelines, action points. Gosh, it was impressive, but in order to get everything I wanted done, it seemed I would have to timetable my life down to the last second. By 3 weeks into the shiny New Year, I realised there was no way I could keep up with my clever plans and all I had done was created about 30 sticks with which to beat myself.  

Now, goals and action points can be really useful, but sometimes they can become the focus rather than the tools. You can find yourself completing your actions successfully whilst losing sight of what you wanted to achieve in the first place. I would say that most often, what we ultimately want to achieve is a state of mind, such as happiness, balance, security, independence, well being, accomplishment.  

When I recognised this last year, I immediately threw out my New Year’s Resolutions and decided that I would concentrate on just one word, which for me was Abundance. This covered so much – abundance of time, friendship, money, energy, balance. I lived my life within this context during the year and at the end of it, I had had a successful business year; written a book; created new collaborations; made loads of new contacts and had new clients. By living in a mindset of Abundance, I felt I had enough of all the things I needed to achieve all the things I wanted. I didn’t get quite as stressed out by self imposed “oughts” and “shoulds” and found myself open to all kinds of opportunities which I never expected.  

This year, I am keeping Abundance as my word and adding Forgiveness – forgiveness to myself for the days when I get a bit too action led.  

What is the word which will inspire you this year? And if you can't find it, perhaps I can help.

The Harder I Work...

Posted on 8 November, 2018 at 4:25 Comments comments (0)

...the luckier I get is a quote ascribed to several people. Who originally said it is unimportant.

I have often been described by people who don’t know me well as being “lucky”: in the right place at the right time, etc.

My letter asking if there were any vacancies as a window dresser arrived on the day the junior window dresser handed in their notice.

When a theatre marketing job came up, I was contacted because I had been talking to people about how to get into the profession.

When asked a contact to help me revamp my CV, she offered me a job project managing her new business.

A fundraiser friend got a celebrity patron for her charity because having lucked out via the actor’s agent, she happen to mention it to an acquaintance, whose girlfriend was the actor’s PA.

A client wanted to reach the then editor of a leading newspaper. She mentioned it at a networking meeting and someone in the group turned out to be the editor’s house sitter.

Yes, these all seem like luck or coincidence, things which happen by chance. However, in every case, these was an intention and an action (or a series of actions) which had to be in place first. I had to write letters; get into networks. The fundraiser had to identify the potential person they wanted to get the charity message out. And in all cases, once the “coincidence” happened, it had to be backed up with a track record of hard work and knowledge. So you have to do the work, meet the people, know what you want and get the message out.

Trusting to luck is a nice idea, but luck never shows up unless you do.

Dignity, Always Dignity!

Posted on 12 October, 2018 at 0:55 Comments comments (0)

Imagine the scene: Nunhead Station, 7.30am on a cold, misty Monday morning. I am wearing THE coat. This is double breasted, scarlet, ankle length and has earned me the nickname The General from more than one friend. To accessorize, I am wearing a red and brown velvet scarf and a brown angora pill box hat. I am Julie Christie in Dr Zhivago and I look the business.

The train arrives and the doors open on an already crowded carriage where people are studiously ignoring each other as well as they can given that they are close enough to count each others ribs. There is no space for me so I dash along to the next carriage. Here, I find just enough room for my feet. I clamber in and lean slightly forward, because I have to make sure that the doors can close behind me. The door mechanism starts to beep and the doors slide shut. I've done it! I am on the train so I do not have to wait 30 minutes for the next, equally crowded one. I don't have to hold on because it is so full that there is nowhere to fall and anyway, I can just lean back against the doors. Whoops, a bit shaky there, but no problem because something is holding me back.

It is at this point that I realise that my extravagant and deeply loved red coat is trapped in the doors behind me. And not just a rogue corner, but all the way from hip to hem. I have suddenly switched from Julie Christie to Buster Keaton. My mind starts racing. I know that these doors do not open at any point between here and up to and including my final destination at Blackfriars. I begin to tug discreetly at my coat, but because there is no room, I can't get any real leverage and so the coat sticks fast.  To my mind, I have three options:

1 wait until I get to Blackfriars, wait for people to leave and then tug like fury

2 go to Blackfriars, stay on the train which I know will return to Elephant and Castle where the doors will open on ‘my’ side of the carriage and I can leave, get onto the Tube and make my way to town or if all goes horribly wrong,

3 get to Blackfriars, wait for people to get off, get out of my coat and leave it hanging there.  (Obviously, this would cause a possible manhunt as they try to find the body to go with the coat, but this is a minor consideration.)

The eagle eyed amongst you will notice that there is not an option 4) ask for help. I want to be inconspicuous - well, as inconspicuous as someone dressed like an extra from War and Peace can look. Being seen as someone with an eccentric style of dress is one thing; being seen as someone who can't even board a train without making a complete hash of it is another thing altogether.

So, here I am, still on this train. Just in case drastic action is called for, I have transferred my gloves and tissues from my coat pocket into my handbag. We pull into Blackfriars Station and draw to a halt. People rush off the train and hurl themselves at the ticket barrier. I stand coolly aloof, as if elbowing my way through the hoi polloi is beneath me. When the coast is clear, (and against the clock – the train is due to go the other way any minute), I grab the back of my coat and pull. It moves about an inch, which is promising. I just need to get a bit more leverage, so I plant my feet about a foot apart, take a firm grip with both hands and give it a damn good yank. Voila! Like a hero from a boy’s action story, with one bound I am free. Or to be more exact, with a hefty tug, my coat releases from the doors and I catapult across the carriage and out of the train doors like a shot from cannon.

My tango training (I knew it would come in useful!) allows me to stop the momentum dead and as I do, the doors of the train close behind me, ready for its’ return journey. I take a deep breath and walk purposefully towards the barrier. Aside from a long dirty black mark on the back of my coat, I think I have pulled it off and the words of Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain run through my head – “Dignity, always dignity”.

And the life lessons to take away from all this?

1 have several solutions, however silly, up your sleeve

2 always keep your cool - other people won't know how you are feeling

3 often, in fact most times, things never turn out as badly as you expect.

We've Got to be Kind

Posted on 2 August, 2018 at 8:35 Comments comments (0)

The concept of kindness has been popping up around me in the past few days.  I was introduced to a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's book, God Bless You, Mr Rosewater. "There's only one rule that I know of, babies, God damn it, you've got to be kind."  And there is a quote (attributed to various people) going around social media, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Being kind is one of those concepts which could sound anodyne, a bit like "nice". But kindness in action is a powerful thing, for both the receiver and giver.

Many years ago, when I was very young and easily influenced, I started work in an office. On the first day, several people warned me about another member of staff.  She was, they said, moody, abrupt, humourless, rude and aloof. And this seemed to be true because although I didn't have much direct contact with her, I could see she was like that with everyone.  I was very intimidated - I was used to people being friendly - and being immature, when I did have to work with her, I would be abrupt first, as a defence mechanism. True to form, she was rude and snappy with me.

After a few times, and knowing I was going to have to be in a meeting with her the next day, I was feeling very anxious. Abrupt wasn't my default mode and it was very uncomfortable for me. I started thinking about how I had taken other peoples' word about her character as truth, before I had made my own decision. What would happen, I thought, if I approached her in a new way - being respectful and, yes, kind?

Initially, it didn't make much of a difference, but I persevered. Over time, her attitude towards me softened. Gradually we became, if not exactly friends, at least warm acquaintances. I treated her with kindness and surprise, surprise, she treated me the same. (She even became less frosty with other people in the office, although they were still too attached to their opinions of her to really loosen up.)

In time, she made passing mentions of a seriously ill husband and of her own tentative health. But you know what? Those hidden hard battles shouldn't matter.

We should be kind to each other just because we can.



A Life Worth Living

Posted on 27 July, 2018 at 4:45 Comments comments (0)

“To die is nothing; but it is terrible not to live”

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

A popular technique used by coaches, including me, when helping people to focus on their long term goal is to ask what they would like to have said in their eulogy.

It may sound a bit grim to ask people to think about their death, but it can be a powerful tool to help concentrate peoples’ minds on what they want their legacy to be and what they need to do in life in order for that legacy to happen. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to know what you might leave behind.

Some years ago, someone in my family was diagnosed with a terminal illness. When his illness was first diagnosed, in his mid-40s, I wondered how I would feel if I had received the same news, what would I think, what would I wish I had done? Out of this, I decided the two things I really wanted to do were to visit to Russia (which I did in April 2007) and to try the Argentine tango. Russia was amazing on so many levels and I loved discovering Russian art. Out of the tango, as well as the sheer enjoyment it has given me, I discovered new levels of creativity, improvision and communication, and developed a new outlook, including the confidence to take the plunge of starting up “Catching Fireworks”.

We all make ripples as we go through our lives and sometimes we have no idea of the effect that we have on other people. Therefore, even if you are given to introspection and wonder how you will be remembered, I suspect that you will never really know – you can only hope. All you can do is live as honestly as possible, being true to yourself, your vision and your values. Enjoy the moment and even if you feel you are working in isolation, somewhere, sometime, there is a good chance you will influence someone.

For the here and now, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we are all going to die and alas, it is not always going to be when we are old. If there is something you have always wanted to do, a burning desire or dream that you will get around to “one day”? Well, as long at it is not going to hurt someone else, may I suggest that you just do it?

You only have the one life; ensure that you make the most of it, both for yourself and for all those people you impact on positively, and possibly unknowingly, along the way.


Posted on 5 July, 2018 at 4:10 Comments comments (1)

"I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward."

Charlotte Bronte

Many years ago, I worked on a theatre production which involved 1 blind woman and about 30 sighted people. At one point, the blind woman had to turn and run offstage, through the throng of people. It kept going horribly wrong and we couldn't work out why. Sure, the blind woman couldn't see where she were going, but why weren't the sighted people getting out of the way?

It was ages before we realised that usually, a sighted person will turn their head to look where they are going before stepping. Even if it is a small, quick movement, made a nano-second before turning the rest of the body, other people will unconsciously pick up this signal and if necessary, move out of the way.

So what can we take from this interesting piece of information? Whether we realise it or not, we go where our eyes take us. Left, right, behind, forward, we look, then we move. But how often do you see people walking along, looking at their feet? Or seeing no further than their phone screen? And as you are watching and picking up their subliminal messages, what does this tell you about that person? I see it in stations every day - people with eyes cast down looking tired, listless and lacking energy, putting long term strain on their necks and their attitudes, bumping into other people, missing what is happening around them.

Then you see someone who is looking upwards - I don't mean head right back and looking straight up, which would give a similar set of problems and would just be silly. No, people who are looking just above eye line, walking out with energy and brio, open to whatever is around them, with a spring in their step.  

Looking upwards is like smiling - if you do it, it can immediately make you feel better and more positive. So if you are out walking today and feeling a bit bleurgh, change your attitude by changing your view. Take your eyes off the floor and look life in the face.

Waterloo Sunset and the Power of Visioning

Posted on 20 June, 2018 at 5:00 Comments comments (0)

"But I don’t feel afraid

As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset

I am in Paradise"

Ray Davies

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.  

How do you keep yourself focussed and on track when you are working towards a goal?

One method I have found extremely powerful is visioning, having a clear image of what you want to achieve and keeping this in your mind regardless of any ups and downs along the way.  The vision which keeps you going could be the opening night of your first solo exhibition; opening the cover of your debut novel; reading your profile in The Observer...

As a creative person, you can build up a clear picture for yourself – where you are, who is there with you, how you are feeling, what you are thinking.  Make it as rich and full a vision as you want and remind yourself of it every day.  You can use an image as your computer wallpaper or use a mood board, or use music.

The best example I have of using visioning in my own life comes from a few years ago, when I was living in Chester where I had been for 9 years.  I like Chester very much, but I really wanted to get back to London, a place I love.  On 1 January 2001, I told my friends that by 31 December 2001, I would be back in London.

I had no idea where in London I would be living, whether in a flat or house, or what sort of job I would be doing.  So I created a quite simple picture for myself as my vision for my hoped for new life.  On the day after I moved back to London, I would stand on Waterloo Bridge with my CD player and as the sun went down over the Thames, I would listen to Ray Davies’s mini masterpiece, “Waterloo Sunset”.  At that moment, I would know that my goal had been achieved.  

During the next few months, I had several near miss job interviews and “almost” opportunities, with all the emotional highs and lows which go along with them.  But every morning, without fail, I would refocus my efforts and my intentions by playing “Waterloo Sunset”.

On the late afternoon of 18 December, 2001, I could have been found on Waterloo Bridge huddled against the chill air, wearing earphones and a silly big grin on my face as I watched the wintery sun slide behind The Houses of Parliament, listening to this wonderful song, before going home to my new south London flat.  It was a bit of a close run thing, but I made my goal with a few days to spare.

And even better, whenever I need to focus on a goal, I can go back to the song and know, “Well, I made that goal, I can make the next one.”




Posted on 13 June, 2018 at 0:00 Comments comments (0)

Dancing the Argentine Tango teaches me so much more than 'just' getting around a dance floor without falling over or treading on my partner's toes.

Having a repertoire of clever steps, an understanding of music, a good partner and a pair of snazzy shoes is all very nice.  However, the Argentine Tango is an improvised dance, depending on a collaboration and connection with your partner.  This could be someone with whom you dance frequently or who you have just met.  

You have to be focussed totally on what you as a couple are doing.  You have to listen to the music with your ears and to each others' movements with your bodies and your intention.  With there being no set choreography, the follower never knows what step they might be led and the leader can never assume that the follower will do exactly what was intended.  It is a conversation, dictated by the connection, the music and in a busy milonga, what else is happening on the floor.

The key to making the dance work is mindfulness, as in 'a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment' (oxforddictionaries).  If you want to dance well and have a lovely tango experience, when the music starts there is no room to think about the phone call you should have made this afternoon, the email you need to send first thing tomorrow or what to have for supper.  (Personally, I would even go so far as to say your mind shouldn't even be on the steps, where the follower is trying to second guess the leader or the leader is working out how they are going to get their newly learnt, killer move into the dance.) Attention and intention must be absolutely in the moment, with the dance flowing from the connection.  It has been described by some dancers as being like meditation.

The bottom line is that to dance tango beautifully, even if you only know two steps, you have to be totally committed to what you are doing and there is absolutely no room for multitasking.

A great lesson for every other area of our lives.

You're doing an open studios because....?

Posted on 1 May, 2018 at 10:15 Comments comments (0)

I recently went to an open studios and had a really great time catching up with a few contacts and finding some new artists to follow. It was a very enjoyable experience ... but that isn’t always the case.

Too many times I have been to an open studios and felt embarrassed because I have felt like an invader. The artist was uncomfortable, didn’t know how to talk about their work, or ignored me. I do understand that this can sometimes be a question of confidence, with the artist not knowing whether to speak to people, give them space, or just hide in a corner.

Even if the artist has been forthcoming, again too many times I have talked with artists and left my contact details, not as a coach, but as someone interested in their work. Very rarely has an artist followed up with me directly or online.

I know only too well how much time and effort is involved in participating in an open studios, so not making the most of it seems to me a lost opportunity. And as the person sitting in the studio all day, it would probably make the event more enjoyable if you have a bigger goal in mind, rather than just trying to get through to 5pm on Sunday!

Can coaching help?

I have worked with artists, designers and makers across disciplines who open their doors to the public, to help them get clarity on why/how to make the best of open studios. This often looks at the long term. Where do you want to be? How do you want to be perceived? How does each event forward your long term vision for your creative career? From looking at the bigger picture, next steps become more obvious, such as identifying goals for the event, who you want to come, where you want to promote it. People have put together their action plans, brainstormed new possibilities, changed their mindsets: what you think visitors want before, during and after the event and if you are nervous, how you can be yourself and make the event work for you.

As with all coaching, there is no ‘one size fits all’ as each person has their own individual goals and motivations. If you are feeling challenged by an upcoming open studios, or want to work through how to make the most of it, check out how we could work together and get in touch.