Love and Hilarity, in that Order

A braindate with life coach, skydiver and self-taught wielder-of-comedy, Melanie Curtis.

© Melanie Curtis

Spend two minutes searching for Melanie Curtis, and you’ll soon be scrolling through pages of epic skydiving photos featuring groups of women plummeting head-first toward the patchwork earth beneath them. Then you might just find yourself taking notes to an hour and a half-long YouTube video of one of Melanie’s workshops about systemic approaches to both the phenomenon and the experience of fear. We met at the Braindate Lounge this year at C2 Montreal, and suffice it to say that Melanie’s story is one that really sticks with you. From the braindate topic that she turned into a full-fledged course, to the art of risk-taking and the science of humor, Melanie is a ferocious example of #HumanGreatness, It’s time you met.

For some of us, there are poignant moments in our lives when we suddenly realize that we’re approaching a choice with transformative potential. The path splits before us, and where once we saw a single destination, we suddenly see another way.

Melanie Curtis is no stranger to moments like these: in fact, she’s moved through two of them (at least), and they’ve taken her on a career path that some of us only dream of. She’s structured her life so that she can listen for new opportunities and seize them–and it shows.

“My short story,” she begins, moves through “investment banking, professional skydiving, and life coaching. Which sounds weird, I know.” And like the kind of story that is positively magnetic to so many of us who are looking to learn from stories of bold deviation from professional norms.

Friends made at high heights have a funny tendency to last longer, we hear. © Melanie Curtis

Growing up with a pilot father, Melanie caught the thrill bug early on. She carved out a space for her own kind of adventure and turned to skydiving, falling in love with nearly everything about the sport. “It was all love,” she smiles. “It became a pure, bright, radiant energy in me that had me unstoppably engaging in the sport and the community.”

After moving from a New England liberal arts college to a career in finance, she confronted a pivotal moment when she choose to try out a career as a professional skydiving coach instead of starting her MBA. “I was making money, and just spending it all on skydiving,” she laughs. So it was probably time to give it a shot. At the risk, of course, of “eating only ramen noodles.” Spoiler: she did it. Maybe even without the noodles.

Melanie’s skydiving career was full of mostly blissed-out gratitude for her active, globe-trotting lifestyle surrounded by people she loved. Skydiving brought her serious joy, and filled her with a sense of purpose that had felt lacking.

But the funny thing about professional risk-takers is that they have a built-in practice of listening for that tiny voice that whispers to them when there could be something more to life. Something greater– something less sure. Melanie’s joyful buzz soon tapered, replaced with the familiar premonition of a looming crossroads. This time, spurred by a niggling feeling that although her career felt fresh and fulfilling, continuing on just wouldn’t make her happy in the long run.

She went back to the drawing board, and emerged with a brand-new career goal that seemed at once almost absurd and yet in all likelihood, totally perfect: life coaching. “It’s either a scam, total bullshit, or it’s part of my calling,” she says, wry. But she knew herself, and she knew that giving it a shot was inevitable. “Ugh.” She caves. “All right.”

Just as she did with her skydiving students, Melanie now encourages her life coaching clients to reach deep within themselves to access their own personal oceans of courage and resilience.

“The skydiving career and coaching have all translated into how I became a life coach, in terms of helping people to overcome fear and find the courage to overcome emotional challenges.”

It’s been 10 years, and Melanie has since found deepened purpose in bringing her easy joy and openness to people approaching crossroads moments of their own. The feeling of vertigo is now less tied to airplane doors, and more to navigating emotional precipices.

Melanie sharing her story with a TEDx audience. © Melanie Curtis

There’s no one-size-fits all secret to tackling risk and digging into courage like this, whether in an airplane or in a life coaching session. There is, however, a key practice of Melanie’s that has woven itself throughout her life and career, which has perhaps liberated her from worry at critical moments. It’s brought bliss into drop zone panic, and eased up the daunting anticipation of tackling wells of challenging emotions in life coaching sessions. It’s humor.

“Whether it’s in teams or one-on-one, throughout all of my coaching, one of the things that has stood out and is something that I love personally is comedy and humor. Particularly, how we can really use it — how powerful and critical humor can be — when working through fear, on the path to a long challenging goal, navigating team conflict, and through our own emotional changes.”

Melanie brought her faith in the power of humor to C2 Montreal, where she attended as a member of the Hatch Network. She decided to share her experience in conquering fear through the application of well-timed hilarity, and posted a braindate topic titled “Comedy as a key skill in growth, achievement, and happiness,” then watched as requests to meet her poured in. She ended up meeting “a fricken ton of people. Like, a ton. I pretty much did mostly braindates.” I get it. Her philosophy on humor is contagious. And she summed it up:

“It’s undeniable how powerful the insertion of levity and a well-timed diffusion of energy is–both in skydiving and life coaching.”

I’m not surprised at how popular her braindate topic was at C2. It’s not news that comedy is a powerful tool when we use it to catalyze everything from team growth to personal development. I see a similar trend in Braindate Lounges all over the world: we’ll be in the middle of Silicon Valley at a software company’s event, and yet the most popular topics will deal with vulnerability, meditation, or experiences in overcoming insecurity.

A glimpse of the Braindate Lounge at C2 this year — the tranquil (while yes, rainbow-bathed) spot to take a break from the hectic conference schedule for a quick but profound braindate with new folks like Melanie. © Yasuko Teadoro

The shock of relatability that comes from seeing something you once assumed was a deeply personal experience, tacked up bravely, publicly, on the Braindate platform is disarming. People go for honesty and in this case, humor, in a big way.

Melanie’s topic was such a success, that she went on to turn it into a full-fledged course of the very same name that she taught in New York City.

“It was a personal joy to talk about [humor],” she recalls. “but I was also expanding my own knowledge about how people used it and how it impacted their lives.”

Taking risks and laughing about it all is a powerful approach to the dizzying reality of choice that we’re confronted with in every aspect of our lives. Whether it’s plunging through thin air, daring to challenge stoicism with hilarity, or opening yourself up to the possibility of terrifying new professional horizons, there’s something to be said for trusting uncertainty and taking the leap.

But… does it always have to be so hard? How can we, lacking perhaps local skydiving opportunities or a life coach of our own, learn to feel courageous when confronting these crossroads moments in our lives that challenge us so deeply?

Start with “the concept of detaching from the outcome,” Melanie offers. That’s a first step. Make peace with the fact that “we can’t control the outcome– but what we can control — and what we’re going to attach our success to — is effort. Then no matter what, it’s a success.”

This is part of We Seek’s Human Greatness series, where we share the stories of incredible folks we discover each day through the power of braindates.

You can read more about Melanie here.