I’m from Kildare. I’ve trained as a musician and from that I’ve always been in leadership roles within the arts in a load of different sectors from music education through to arts venues and arts programming. I see myself as somebody who leads out in the arts sector.
I did a Bachelor of Music in Maynooth then I went on and I did a Performance Master in Queens before doing the Cultural Policy Master in UCD. I also have a Post Graduate Diploma in Education and I’ve a Post Graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Music. I’m back now in Master study around Coaching. I like to learn, to develop. I put real value on learning and being in a place where I’m challenged to think differently.
I have my own coaching practice and I’m really passionate about coaching and looking after everyone in the arts. Right now I’m the interim chief executive in Visual which is the arts centre in Carlow.
Asking for help >>Watch video>>
When I was an undergrad, I was a young single mother. At that time I was trying to really carve out this life for myself as a musician, while trying to be a great mother to my gorgeous daughter. That was in my late teens/very early twenties in the early 2000s. When I look back on it now, it was a particularly challenging time for my wellbeing although I didn’t quite realise it at the time.
I developed this capacity to hold really difficult things for a really long time and that was a way I worked through making sure that I was living out my own creative identity while being a really great Mom.
I was supported really well at that time, not in an official way, but in terms of really great friendships and a really great team at the college. I didn’t ask for any help at that time and when I reflect on that I realise that didn’t serve me well. I maybe could have looked after myself a little bit better.
I formed a habit in my very early career around being super resilient, ploughing through making things happen, achieving, getting to the next thing, going from one college course to the next, being promoted in work, all of those kinds of things. Resilience is a great thing but asking for help is just as great. That was a really challenging time for me and I think I managed it by having a really great sense of my own creativity and my own identity and my values.
Over the last 10 or 15 years of my career I’ve been in leadership positions. It can be a challenge at times when you know people, artists, arts workers and their families are relying on you to make sure that you do your job really well so that they can do their job really well. There have been times where sometimes I’ve been overwhelmed by that. Also navigating the hierarchy and political landscape can also be quite overwhelming and tiring at times. I think the way I’ve managed that was down to working with a coach for a long time.
Coaching >>Watch video>>
The concept of Coaching has been a bit of a revelation to me in the last 18 months. It happened by chance. I happened to be working with somebody who is a really skilled coach and I was able to really recognise that I was very attracted to how well that person was able to hold themselves, respond, reflect, be present, be mindful, and carry out their work in a really dignified manner.
I didn’t really know that coaching was a thing. I’ve always known about therapy and the wonderful benefits of therapeutic interventions. I’ve also been really aware and really lucky to have great mentors in my life but I suppose the coaching space is between those two. I started to become really interested in the concepts and theory behind coaching. I could see that would be a place for me in which I’d be really comfortable.
This time last year I enrolled in a Masters in Personal and Leadership Coaching in UCC so I’m on this learning journey at the moment which has supported me to develop my own coaching skills and practice. It’s also supported me to go really deep in terms of understanding how coaching works for me as a person and how I integrate this into my life in leadership in the arts.
Very honestly, the coaching relationship I’ve had with my coach this past 18 months has changed my life and it has absolutely supported me to manage really difficult situations. It has helped me manage my mental health throughout those really challenging periods in my leadership roles. It involves noticing my emotional state and what my body is telling me around maybe being at the edge of burnout. I take time with my coach to work through that and figure out ways forward.
Keeping my wellbeing really well looked after comes from a deep understanding of my value base. Courage is a really important core value for me, integrity is a really important core value for me. This informs what boundaries look like for me in terms of my day to day work in leadership positions. Am I being courageous? What does that look like? Am I acting with integrity? What does that look like? Is this feeling uncomfortable for me?
If things are feeling uncomfortable, I take some time away and examine why and see if I can identify the connection with my discomfort and maybe a challenge around one of my core values. It’s a very fluid process. It’s a skill that can be learned and a skill that can be developed with practice and I think that’s where coaching has helped me. I’ve developed a fluency with that skill of examining boundaries connected to my own value base.
Going forward >>Watch video>>
Everyone I’ve met in this really varied career I’ve had, everyone without question, is absolutely motivated by a passion for a deeply creative society and what that could do for us all here in Ireland. If we’re all really working from the one value base, then the collective of that can be really quite phenomenal. I think there’s always going to be things to be figured out and looked at but I’ve seen the magic of when all of that comes together and great things happen for communities. I’m in it for the long haul. I’m always here to try and figure that space out. How does great leadership in the arts work to enable a really creative flourishing society? That to me is a really interesting question going forward.
Find out more about Paula on her website www.paulaphelan.ie or Instagram @paulaphelancoach.
Paula has recently joined the Minding Creative Minds panel of mentors bringing our number of mentors to over 35. Applications to be part of the next mentorship round will open in the coming months. If you’d like to be considered to be paired with one of our mentors, keep an eye on our social media channels for updates.
Remember, if you’re a member of the Irish creative industry, you can talk to a counsellor free of charge at any time of the day or night. Simply call the phone number below.