Melanie Curtis wasn’t afraid of heights the first time she made herself step out of a plane. Like everyone else, what she really feared was death. “You go up in an airplane, and you’re like, oh my God, there is no way I could jump out of this airplane and live. So when you jump out and you land, and you live … for me, it was very visceral, like a stake in the ground moment where I literally experienced overcoming my own fear.”
Curtis, who has made a career out of both skydiving and life coaching, will speak at the Ellevate Central New Jersey professional network on Thursday, September 27, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Tigerlabs at 252 Nassau Street in Princeton. Tickets are $25, $10 for members. For more information visit www.ellevatenetwork.com.
Curtis grew up in Canada, where her father owned an airport and a close family friend ran a skydiving operation. So there was never a question that she would try skydiving eventually. “It’s such a profound experience,” she says. Perhaps partly because of the confidence gained from skydiving, Curtis has successfully gone through several career changes. After college she worked in investment banking for five years before deciding to make skydiving her full-time job.
But eking out an existence as a professional stunt skydiver wasn’t really enough for her. “I realized I could be a professional skydiver and not live in a trailer by the drop zone eating ramen noodles,” she says. “As soon as it was sensible for me, I made steps to make that happen.” She ran her own drop zone for six years, ran the marketing for it, organized skydiving events, and appeared in publicity stunts and commercials. (You may have seen her in an Emerald Nuts commercial where she skydives dressed as a stewardess, along with a beverage cart.) She mastered multiple skydiving disciplines, including free falling and parachute piloting, once landing in Dodger Stadium for a publicity stunt.
While Curtis was happy with her skydiving career, it wasn’t quite taking advantage of her “people person” skills. So her next career change was a logical one, that incorporated her interpersonal skills: life coaching. She has written a book called “One Positive Thought can Change Everything” and works as a professional speaker and life coach.
Her coaching starts at $250 a week for unlimited e-mails and a one-hour call. She also offers coaching plans for business teams. The coaching isn’t therapy, and if someone has psychological issues she will refer them to a professional. But if it’s not therapy, just what is life coaching?
“The term ‘life coach’ really put me off at first,” she says. “I thought, this is either a complete scam, or it’s my calling.” After she pursued it for while, she discovered it was the latter. “I’m not an expert at life. Nobody is. Like, who am I to tell anybody what to do?” Rather than telling her clients what to do, Curtis helps her clients get motivated and design action plans that help them with their own goals — sort of like a coach in sports.
Much of her work is in helping people overcome their fears, which is the part of her practice that ties back into skydiving. Usually the fear is not skydiving, but something like social anxiety that prevents people from “putting themselves out there.” Curtis encourages them to take themselves out of their comfort zones step by step — more like walking down a set of stairs than jumping out of a plane.
Curtis recalls one client who ran a small private school together with her husband. The husband did much of the organizational work and managed many of the school’s business relationships. So when he died, the wife was left adrift with no idea what to do. Curtis says she helped the widow learn organizational skills, as well as how to engage with people more effectively and build social connections like her husband used to do. “The school is thriving once again,” Curtis says.
Curtis says mindset is the key to overcoming fear. “Take a look and really try to pause and take inventory of how you feel, and whether you have an emotional charge or a negative feeling, or if you just feel heavier,” she says. “Those mindsets are where we can start transforming and lifting that weight off, just by taking a look at our thoughts.”
Curtis says she finds that overcoming those fears can pay off in a big way, just like it did for her. “I believe the best in life is found on the other side of our fear,” she says.