Allison Massari, a successful entrepreneur and artist, shared her personal story of resilience, perseverance and hope Wednesday (Nov. 4) during the fall learning event of the Northwest Arkansas regional chapter of the national nonprofit Network of Executive Women (NEW). The virtual event, attended by 357 professionals, was available via Zoom webinar.
With 13,000 professional members representing 925 companies across North America, NEW’s mission is “to advance all women, grow business and transform our workplaces through the power of our community.”
During her talk, entitled “The Survival Guide to Being Human and the Art of Happiness,” Massari shared her personal story of survival after being severely burned in a horrific car crash in 1998. She was trapped and burned alive, conscious the entire time until a bystander pulled her out of the fire. Fifty percent of her body had second- or third-degree burns.
“It took years to master healing of emotional, physical and spiritual pain. I experienced extreme depression, despair, anxiety, years of grueling physical therapy. This profound journey took me on my greatest adventure, searching to harness peace and happiness despite my suffering,” she said.
Through her journey, Massari learned to focus on happiness from within instead of looking for external pleasures.
“Happiness is possible in the midst of suffering. Pain and joy exist side by side. Embracing this idea is essential for building a peaceful life,” she said, advising listeners to focus on the smallest joys instead of their pain. “You build it. You grow it. You nourish it so much that eventually, your joy towers over your pain. This is one of my greatest secrets to a fulfilled, empowered life.”
Roger Pepper, the man who pulled Massari from the fire, came to visit her after the crash. He deflected her gratitude and told her that she saved him that day. Devastated after his wife’s death, he had lost all motivation and felt shame and regret at the life he had lived. Saving Massari brought redemption and healing for him.
“Two people in their deepest moment of pain met in a blazing fire and saved each other,” Massari said. “Roger said that he was born for that moment.”
Experiencing the pain of being judged for her scars, Massari learned compassion for demanding people.
“What I saw in this is that forgiveness and understanding are truly the only balm for the wounds of unkindness,” she said.
Massari began to realize that people behave in a mean way because they act out of their fear and pain, wondering if the same could happen to them. “Fear shut them down and created judgment,” she said.
Over the years, she realized that she was in agony, holding onto hurt feelings caused by others. “Finally, I let go. I did it for them, and I did it for myself. I wanted to feel peaceful and what I found is that love is the answer. Always.”
The Japanese martial art, Aikido, teaches when you are attacked, don’t strike back. Instead, re-direct the force from your opponent to neutralize the charge, to restore their dignity. The intention is to create peace and protect everyone from injury, including the attacker, Massari said.
When she finds herself in conflict, she repeats, “I will forever be ready to be kind. I want to be a place of nourishment. Even if I’m in pain, I’m determined to find a way to forgive. Even if I’m betrayed, I’ll find a way to love,” Massari said. “We have to be warriors for love.
“The world doesn’t change. We change. And that is another great secret to happiness.”
Struggling with her wounds and scars, Massari asked herself, “What if I could be happy anyway?” By intentionally choosing to build joy beside the pain, she learned to feel good even in her struggles.
Part of her healing came from her determination to persist through the pain until she was fully healed.
“I found that I can be tender-hearted and fierce. I have to be 100 percent fully in charge of my life and learn to stop resisting challenges and embrace them,” she said. “We are all so much stronger than we have any idea. We are all capable of overcoming trials.”
As part of her journey, Massari created the Roger Pepper Adventure Camp for Teenage Burn Survivors. She shared C.J.’s story of being burned as a two-year-old and had no fingers. “Love burst out of his body,” she said.
In summary, “happiness is born in our ability to see all that is good and all that is painful and unfair and to choose compassion, kindness and love, anyway,” Massari said.
Presenting sponsors for the event were Nestlé Purina, Procter & Gamble Co. and Advantage Solutions.