Reaching New Heights, with Melanie Curtis
Episode 98: Reaching New Heights, with Melanie Curtis
When we think of someone who seems to be “doing it all,” Melanie Curtis no doubt comes to mind. Melanie is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, and life coach with a dedicated Facebook following. She has also jumped out of a plane over 10,000 times. When asked how she manages it all, Melanie reassured us that the state of her apartment would reveal her humanness. In this episode, Melanie Curtis chats about making her imperfections known, overcoming fears, and what it’s like to throw yourself out of planes, helicopters, and the occasional hot air balloon.
00:13 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, with my co-host Maricella Herrera. How's it going, Maricella?
00:21 Maricella Herrera: Good. It's good. It's been so busy, but it's good.
00:24 KW: It has been busy. I know we've talked about this a few times, but in my memory I feel that there were times with slow periods, and we have not seen a slow period in quite some time.
00:38 MH: Yeah. I was thinking about this. I don't know if it's because of the state of the world and the type of work we do that things are more front and center lately.
00:47 KW: Gender is a top...
00:50 MH: Right. So, it's kind of crazy for us. It also can be because we've grown a lot, which is great in our communities getting stronger, but that also means that we have more people to serve, which is great, but a lot more things to do.
01:05 KW: Sure. I think technology plays a big role in it as well, that accessibility and always being on, always responding, always being able to look something up or do something. And part of it is trying to... At least for me, when I'm trying to slow down, I need to remove technology.
01:28 MH: Yeah. I was gonna ask you, as you were talking about that, do you do a time out without your phone or computer, or just set it down, set it aside?
01:41 KW: I do. I need to do more of it. We've been doing... And this is not quite answering your question, but we, with the kids actually, have been doing family movie night, which has been really great. The hardest is finding a movie we all agree on. But there's no tablets, there's no phones, there's nothing, and we're just completely focused on each other, which is a huge feat for me. I can be very focused on my family, but I have a hard time actually paying attention to movies for the whole time. My mind starts to wander, and I wanna look in my phone, so I have to be very in the moment. But I enjoy that, and I actually find it very calming to just disconnect and get lost in fantasy. And so I've been trying to do that more, if it's just when I'm on the subway and not looking at my phone, or walking more, just trying to get in my head more versus distracted by technology.
02:40 MH: Yeah. I have a really hard time... And what I realized is I walk a lot. I love walking. That's the only time I can actually make the voices in my head quiet. I overthink or anonymous, but even when I'm walking, I'm listening to a podcast or doing something else. I'm not just...
02:58 KW: You're multi-tasking.
03:00 MH: Right.
03:00 KW: Right? All the time.
03:01 MH: And I realized, the last few weeks, I've been having really, really bad insomnia, terrible insomnia. And I think it's because I've been working late. And I know myself, and we've talked about this, I am more productive in the evening, so that's why I like working at night, 'cause I know my brain just functions better. But once I'm in there, my brain just doesn't stop and then I can't sleep. I don't know.
03:28 KW: Well, they say you should not look at your phone. Or I think... I don't know if TV is included, but I know your phone, like an hour before you go to bed, which seems like a Herculean task. I can't even imagine.
03:42 MH: I can't... How? How?
03:44 KW: I don't know.
03:45 MH: I woke up at 4:00 AM last night just randomly because, again, insomnia, and I didn't know what to do, so I grabbed my Kindle and started reading, which I guess was probably a bad idea.
03:56 KW: I don't know. It can help center your thoughts a little bit.
04:00 MH: Maybe.
04:01 KW: Well, our guest today, Melanie Curtis, is really interesting because she is a skydiver, and many other things. She's actually awesome, and we connected really well on the podcast, and she's just really fun. But I think, for those nights when you can't sleep, even though you're not supposed to be on your phone, you could check out her Facebook feed, because she posts videos every day with advice and insights, tips, pictures. And I've just really enjoyed following her, and in getting this really personal authentic view into in her world and the ways that she's helping others as well. A lot of self-reflection there, it was really good.
04:42 MH: I will do that. Have you been skydiving before?
04:46 KW: No, I haven't. I don't like the feeling of falling. It's like roller coasters and... I bungee jumped once. It was spring break in Cancun, just like bad decisions left and right. Yeah. No, I don't like the feeling of falling. Have you done skydiving?
05:03 MH: I'm actually afraid of heights, weirdly enough.
05:05 KW: I did not know that.
05:07 MH: Yeah. It's weird, 'cause I don't get super paranoid, but the idea of doing it freaks me out. My family always makes fun of me because we've been obviously to a bunch of Mayan ruins and stuff near El Salvador and Mexico and around Central America. My dad's really into that stuff. But I would go up the pyramid, and then when I had to go down, I would just sit 'cause I feel like I don't know if I can get down there. So, I am not a big fan.
05:43 KW: I never do that.
05:44 MH: I should do it just so that I can...
05:45 KW: Well, maybe Melanie has some tips for conquering your fears. I did not ask her on the podcast, but we can follow up with her and incorporate it into another podcast in the future.
05:57 MH: Yeah.
05:57 KW: All right. We'll come back to this. Enjoy my conversation with Melanie Curtis. And if you have questions for us, or just want to say "hi," feel free to email us at email@example.com.
06:19 KW: Melanie, I have to start this conversation with a really important question, which is, can you please tell me about the jumping out of planes, 'cause it's just not something that I totally get and I'm trying to understand? Please help me.
06:34 Melanie Curtis: Yes, absolutely. It is kind of a thing that stops conversations. It's my little elevator pitch. I tend to go, "Oh, well, my story is investment banking, professional skydiving, life coaching." And then it's like, "Well, where do I start?" Skydiving, it's in my family. I'm from an aviation family. My dad, he's a pilot, and then he started a drop zone, which is a skydiving center at our house, basically at his house.
07:00 KW: Cool. In the backyard.
07:01 MC: In the backyard, literally.
07:03 KW: All the kids are like, "I wanna go to Melanie's house. We can jump out of planes."
07:06 MC: Literally, yes. So, I was just exposed to skydiving at a young age. I could have done it when I was 16 years old, but I was too scared and I just... At 18, I somehow said, after sitting into the first jump course for however many times, it was like, "Okay, tomorrow I'm gonna do it." And I did. I took the first jump course with some intention, like, "Okay, this is actually the day." And honestly, it sounds so cliche, but... So, I jumped and I... There's a whole story around what that is, but the rest was history, literally.
07:47 KW: And you've done 10,000 jumps or something, right?
07:51 MC: Yeah. Professional skydiving can look a bunch of different ways. The way that I did it is... This happens for a lot of people who get into skydiving, and it's not for everybody. I certainly don't tell everybody, "Oh, you need to jump out of an airplane." If you're not the kind of person who wants to jump out of an airplane, don't do it. But if you are the person who is like, "Oh, that kinda sounds fun, I'd like to try it," then go for it, because it really blows your mind. Most people who think about jumping out of an airplane are like, "No way. I'm gonna die." Who would jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Right? That's the standard joke. And the truth is that's legit. You are jumping out of an airplane, like it's wise to be a bit mindful and considered at that action. You know what I'm saying?
08:45 MC: So, we get the education, we prepare enough, such that we've mitigated that risk to the point where we can actually let go of and exit an aircraft in flight. So, that moment, that point of no return moment, an exit is by far the best moment, in my opinion, skydiving. But when you land and you are alive, that really changes people from this idea of it was impossibility before. "I can't jump out of an airplane and live," but you do. You jump out of an airplane, you land, you're alive, you're not dead. You've lived through this experience, and then it basically informs us that the things that we think are impossible are, in fact, possible, which sounds very cliche, but that underpinning value and mindset has really driven my whole life and career since that point.
09:36 KW: I get that, 'cause it's a metaphor for just, in general, there's so many things, intentional and unintentional, that happened to us that feel like we're jumping out of that plane and that we will not end safely, and you do.
09:50 MC: Yeah. 'Cause fear is universal. It might not be jumping out of an airplane. Again, it's such a good metaphor. But like you said, even trying to get the new job that you want, or walking up to someone that you admire and starting a conversation, that can feel really scary. And those visceral physiological responses are very normal for all of us in the experience that feels scary to us.
10:18 KW: Because people often say, "What's the worst that can happen? They say 'no.'" But for some of us, and I'm one of them, that "no" feels like you hit the ground with no parachute open. Right? [laughter] Yes, it is just a word, but it can be really scary.
10:34 MC: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think being gentle, and it sounds a little bit weird or, I don't know, cheesy, but being gentle with ourselves and recognizing that that's normal. Think about, again, evolution. If we were kicked out of the tribe, if we were rejected, then we were eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, kind of. That's basically the wiring that we're dealing with. In the modern world, obviously we're not really gonna get eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, if this person that we admire doesn't like us or turns out to be a jerk, and says, "Get that out of here," or whatever. But if we're not aware and in tune with that feeling, and not identifying with that... 'Cause that's the thing, people identify with that and then feel it as a failure, and then say those really self-defeating things, which brings us into the life coaching part of how this plays into people's life experience. And how we can grow from that is that, when we recognize It's normal, you're probably gonna feel that. I don't wanna get rejected. No one wants to get dumped or not get the job or lose the job, but it does happen. And it doesn't actually speak about who we are but rather can inform us of something we might wanna learn and also gives us that access to, "Oh, I survived that, I'm okay," and increasing our strength through those experiences.
12:00 KW: I will admit, though, that I will never jump out of an airplane.
12:03 MC: Yeah. It's not for everyone, for real.
12:05 KW: The feeling of falling is the worst feeling in the world. I won't go on roller coasters. My husband doesn't understand and he keeps thinking it's all in my head. He's like, "Just do it, and you'll love it." [laughter] I don't love it. I just don't.
12:18 MC: Well, it's not for everyone. The sensation of falling, you don't really feel that, skydiving, because you start in motion, so you don't feel it. It's just very windy. People think, "Oh, my stomach is gonna come up in my throat," and that's not really how it works, unless you jump out of a hot air balloon, which is more stationary, or a helicopter, which is more stationary.
12:37 KW: Have you jumped out of all of those?
12:39 MC: Yes.
12:40 KW: Okay. Oh, my gosh. All right, all right. So, we know that you're amazing. [laughter] You're a skydiver. You're also a type A girl boss, coach and entrepreneur, an author, a speaker. You do it all. How did this happen? How did you get to this point? Please inspire all of us with your story, because I can't wait to hear it.
13:02 MC: I'm trying not to laugh, it's just so funny. "You do it all." I'm like, "Oh, I don't know, you haven't seen my apartment, for example." [laughter] It's like my laundry currently unfolded. Certainly there are human, much, much human elements to my story.
13:21 KW: I wanna quickly interject and say thank you for saying that, because I think that is something that is not said enough, that it's oftentimes this persona that we're all perfect and do so much, and it's just not true.
13:33 MC: It's just not true.
13:34 KW: And so thank you for saying that.
13:37 MC: You're welcome. Yeah. It's funny, I always wanna lead by example of what's human. 'Cause that's the thing, yeah, have I jumped out of an airplane 10,000 times? Have I published my first book? I'm hoping to do another one soon. It's just, whatever, lots of projects. Have I started my own company and done all this stuff? Yeah. I almost feel embarrassed even saying those things, because I'm so much more drawn to supporting people through the reality of life, which is sometimes we are... I posted a selfie on my Facebook. My Facebook is where the majority of my audience is and the conversation of my audience takes place, and I posted a selfie the other day, just sitting there with my bed head and my lights on me, and my space cat leggings, just messy desk, just to say, like, "Yo, I'm not trying to be... " And I know that we all have that stuff. Again, metaphorically, everybody has that stuff.
14:37 KW: I just friended you on Facebook. So, we're gonna be friends. Please accept it, but...
14:42 MC: Honestly, the way Facebook works is you have too many friends.
14:45 KW: I just got a message that said "Melanie has reached her friend limit, and she can't receive friend requests right now."
14:51 MC: It's hard.
14:51 KW: It spoke on your behalf, just a diss to me.
14:54 MC: It's terrible, right?
14:55 KW: As a friend, that hurts. I know that that's automated, but that hurts.
14:58 MC: Yeah. I'm in this situation where I have to be like, "Oh, by the way, I have too many friends. So, if you could just follow me... " How lame do I sound? It's so bad. [laughter] But it's like the fan page doesn't... That's a different conversation, but the fan page on Facebook, I have one of those, but nobody... It doesn't have even remotely the amount of reach as an authentic, real profile does.
15:23 KW: Yeah, a person.
15:24 MC: Yeah.
15:25 KW: Thanks, Melanie. I see how that is. [laughter] All right. So, how did you get to be this person that has many titles, but is not perfect at doing it all because none of us are?
15:38 MC: Well. Okay. So, the investment banking out of college, basically I went and did the usual route of go work hard, make a ton of money at something you really don't love, because you don't know what you're doing yet as a young person. Totally normal, totally understandable. So, I call that money and I spend it all on skydiving, 'cause that was my pure passion, just loved it so much, I was nuts.
16:03 KW: You weren't getting the family and friends discount from that?
16:06 MC: No, no. No. My dad's drop zone is very small. It's awesome, but it's not a place where you can train and compete on teams, and stuff like that. I was really into the sport of skydiving at that time. I was also living in New York, out of college, I was jumping and trying to get to the bigger drop zones, and stuff. Anyway, fast forward. I moved to California 'cause I need sunshine. I need...
16:32 KW: As we all do.
16:33 MC: Yeah. I needed sunshine, and I needed a place where I could have a car. And out of college, I was poor and in New York, you just couldn't really make it happen. And I was like, "I have to change my life if I want more skydiving in my world," and so I did, moved there, and then just spent every weekend at the drop zone, literally spent all my time and money doing competitive teams, getting coaching, doing wind tunnel time, buying gear, not recklessly. There's lots of people that can go into crazy debt doing this. I was mindful, I was responsible. My parents did a good job.
17:13 KW: Do you make money competitive skydiving?
17:16 MC: Competitive skydiving, some teams do, the best in the world. For example, how it worked for me is I earned a reputation by doing well as a competitive skydiver, so then I was able to coach people and charge a day rate and then... Like that. I also, after my investment banking days, I said, "Okay. Either I'm gonna go the direction of MBA and I don't know what I wanna do with my life, or I can go this direction of professional skydiving," which I really didn't know was available. I really didn't know. So, I bought this job hunt book. I don't know if you've heard of it. I bought it because of the title, "What Color is Your Parachute?" It's a very common book. And I buy this book and I'm reading it, and the question in the book that totally changed my life is also very common, but it was, "What would you do if money were no object?"
18:17 MC: And so I'm sitting there literally in my cubicle, at Credit Suisse First Boston, and I have this realization of like, "Well, skydiving, duh," but I don't wanna live in a trailer on the drop zone. I don't wanna eat ramen noodles for my dinner. I have a lifestyle that I like, I don't necessarily want that. And it hit me that, wait, not every professional skydiver, as it were, is like that. Some people own homes and have families. And it opened my mind, like, "Holy crap, I could actually do this thing that I wanna do in a different way than I originally thought," and that just changed everything. I started working in a drop zone in Southern California, ran all their events, got really well known in the sport, and then travelled the world coaching. And the ironic part, I think, in my story is that it evolves even beyond that, 'cause I think... It's a thing, it's an experience to achieve your dreams. You achieve what you set out to achieve, and then there's this almost moment where you are like, "Wait, well, what's this?" 'Cause you're always used to working...
19:31 KW: "What's next? I'm happy. This is great."
19:33 MC: I'm happy. This is great. And that's actually totally what happened to me. I was genuinely in this beautiful state of love and happiness for my life, and that's why I became sought after as a coach. 'Cause I'm not a world champion. I'm good. I'm good. I have lots of skills, I can teach people really well, but I'm not gonna be on the podium at the world meet. You know what I mean? That's not my thing in skydiving. My thing was always, I wanna have skills that allow me to jump with my friends and do whatever I wanna do with my people. It's always about the people for me, and helping young jumpers and giving back. And as a result, that community, that audience as it were, just my people, I guess, tribe, whatever you wanna call it...
20:28 KW: Squad, we like squad.
20:29 MC: Squad, sure. That's what has supported me forward as I went to full professional skydiver, solo, free agent and entrepreneur after that, into life coaching.
20:44 KW: I think I'm a type A person. I always say that I am, but I'm not entirely sure that I know exactly what that means, to be honest. And I know that you have some expertise and emotional skills for type A people, so I really want to get into what exactly this means, because I think that this could be an "a-ha" moment for me.
21:07 MC: Cool, cool. I love that. Yeah. People ask you... You know how it is, as an entrepreneur, people ask you all the time, "What do you do? Who do you work with? What's your ideal client?" All those elevator pitchy, freaking questions.
21:23 KW: "What can I do for you?" [laughter] I was like, "I don't know. I should know. I don't know."
21:27 MC: I don't know. And so, over the years... My life coaching business happened after my skydiving, and that's a whole different thing. We can do another time, but that part of my business evolved over the last... I've been doing that for about eight years now. And I was like, "Is it skydivers that I work with? Is it entrepreneurs? Is it... " And it wasn't. And so, over time, I really... It was clarified that it's not just those two groups. It's people in those groups, yes, but it's not always entrepreneurs. It's the personality type of the high achiever who typically sources success and a feeling of safety and worthiness from external achievements. And we make it happen. We make shit happen. I have no doubt that if you're identifying as type A, it's probably like any task, if you know what to do, you're willing to do it.
22:30 KW: That would be true.
22:31 MC: You're willing. Look at your business, look at where we're sitting. This is unreal, it's beautiful. But then we find ourselves in these emotional challenges. For example, I got divorced. And that is... For people who have been through an emotional challenge like that, it's so rigorous emotionally that the skill set of achieving externally, and doing, doing, doing, and perfectionism, there's lots of stuff that can go into this, that doesn't work. So, we are forced to look and go, "Okay, what are the emotional skills that I do not have? What are the emotional skills that I need to actually get through this experience that I'm now in that what I've always done will not work on? Does that make sense?
23:19 KW: Yeah.
23:19 MC: Yeah.
23:20 KW: I'm just gonna be a little bit about me for a minute. I turned 40 this year. But when I turned 39, and I've talked about this on the podcast before, I had a total breakdown because I am very type A, I believe. And so it's like, "Okay, I wanna do this, and I wanna do this, and I wanna do this." And suddenly you hit some milestone, you're like, "Oh, man, I'm sucking at everything." [laughter] "I'm working really hard at work, but is that having the impact I want?" And so it's really hard emotionally to deal with that. And when it's clearly defined metrics around success, you can... That's easy for a type A. You can go, "What are the KPIs? Should I hit my goal? Okay, great." But the emotions around that and the feeling of failure or the feeling of self-worth, the feeling of just "am I happy with who I am" is really hard to quantify and to deal with that sense that you don't know if you're actually the person you wanna be or doing the things you wanna do.
24:22 MC: Those are such good questions. They're such insightful questions. And this is totally the work that I get up to with my clients. There's no cookie-cutter way to find that answer. I can't say, "Oh, you know what, great, Kristy, come on over and I'm gonna put you through my XYZ steps." Yeah, lots of those things exist, and that's great, because they are tools and experiences we can have that help us uncover what our core values are, and to start to distinguish what does... So, if one of my core values is freedom, for example, or one of my core values is family or comedy, hilarity, like love and hilarity, some of my values, can I look at what I'm doing, the choices I'm making, the actions I'm taking, the stands I'm taking, the way I interact with my people, the way I love myself, as cheesy as that sounds as well...
25:17 KW: I don't think that's cheesy.
25:18 MC: You know what I mean? Does that stuff align with what I've done the work to determine are my values? Even in the process there's a lot of fear and a lot of perfectionism, or just worry that, "Is it right? Is it wrong?" And those judgments can really hold us back. So, I encourage people to look at that as a process and as an experience and an experiment, because we don't have to have the answer. Everything that we do informs us. Even if we make a crappy choice and we totally blow it up and get hurt or whatever, we learn from that. That is really valuable, and it further informs what our values are. Because when we act in alignment with our values, we feel peace and we feel fulfillment, which is buzzwordy, but we know the difference. When we're doing something and we feel anxious, different. When we're doing something and we feel calm no matter what occurs, those things are really good ways to start to identify what your values are.
26:21 KW: Does anything still scare you?
26:23 MC: Oh, my God, so much. Yes, of course. Holy smokes. That is... That's the thing, too. I would never ever want to be a person or a leader that was looked upon as if I had it all figured out. That's the thing about life coaching. The term "life coach," I used to hate it. And I actually still hate it, but it's all good. I use it for a purpose. I say it for a reason, because my people are usually like, "Life coach, what?" And the reason I think it's... I think, as it might imply, that the person calling themselves a life coach thinks they know everything about life, which, of course, is preposterous. No, duh, nobody is an expert at life. So, the way I describe that is I'm not an expert at life. I am an expert in the kind of conversation that just helps us level ours up in the ways that we want or clear away the crap that's holding us back, which we all have. We just all have it, and we're all working through it.
27:29 KW: Thank you for this. It was really great to talk to you, and your perspective and insight. This has really been refreshing to hear, so thank you.
27:36 MC: Thank you.
27:39 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out. Subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars, and share your review. Also don't forget to follow us on Twitter at EllevateNtwk, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, www.ellevatenetwork.com. That's ellevatenetwork.com. And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller. She rocks. And to our voice-over artist, Rachel Griesinger, thanks so much. And join us next week.
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