Growing through Adversity, with Inspirational Speaker Allison Massari


Exclusive Interview with: Allison Massari

After surviving two horrific car accidents, artist and entrepreneur Allison Massari braved an excruciating recovery that forever changed the way she viewed life, happiness and fulfillment. She has since then become one of North America’s leading inspirational speakers in personal development, teaching hundreds of audiences the self-disciplinary techniques she implemented to manage change, find inner peace and come alive again. She is a featured expert in the documentary “ReSolve” and has made M&C Magazine’s “Best Keynote Speakers” List three years in a row.

When we learn to lean into adversity – rather than resisting it – we become an active participant in our journey towards successfully triumphing through our hardships. We accelerate a process of restoration when we are present.

SPEAKING.COM: After a car accident left you severely burned, you faced an arduous recovery. Can you describe how you endured such extreme adversity?

MASSARI: In the beginning, it was pure grit – surviving the agony. When I was in the hospital, for weeks after the accident, the pain was mind-bending. It was physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally eviscerating. The nurses would scrub my wounds for four hours every day to remove dead tissue to help my skin heal. This pain was so consuming that I felt I was losing my whole identity. I had to remind myself over and over – “I am not a burn. I am not a burn”.

Although there were tiny moments of reprieve – when a nurse looked me in the eyes with such compassion – or when I felt the loving presence of my family – it was mostly figuring out how to survive the next moment – the next second.

One day in the hospital bed I was in so much agony, and had been for so long, that I said to myself “I give up. I want to give up.” I was absolutely exhausted — completely depleted. In that moment, somehow I believed that I could simply disconnect from my body – that I could leave reality and turn my back on all of it. I turned my head to the side and closed my eyes. I had no more fight in me. In retrospect, I see that in that moment I was probably ready to die.

Then something powerful happened. Through the cracks of my eyes I remember seeing my left arm moving. I was startled. Somehow I saw that my body was not giving up. My physical body clearly wanted to live – it was encouraging me. I was astonished that my burned body was still saying “Yes”.

It became incontrovertibly clear that I was either going to be a prisoner of my unyielding body, or, I could choose to figure out how to show up and participate in this process physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

This was a big “Ah-ha” moment for me – and this awareness carried over into every area of my life.

When we learn to lean into adversity – rather than resisting it – we become an active participant in our journey towards successfully triumphing through our hardships. We accelerate a process of restoration when we are present.

I believe that this little moment saved me years of potentially having a life of apathy and disconnection.



SPEAKING.COM: What was your mindset throughout your recovery?

MASSARI: My approach actually evolved and expanded as time passed. As I began healing it became so important to me to not be defined by the accident. I didn’t want to be a victim. This is when everything started to truly change.

I knew that I had to move past this experience so that I could start living again. Every day I had to renew my commitment to take charge of my life. I saw that I actually had a choice to take command of my reactions and of how I felt. This discovery gave me a sense of full aliveness, and a strength that I had never quite experienced before.

Finding a way to be ok no matter what, and finding a way to transform this tragedy into a gift became my constant focus. This led to intensifying my relentless search to understand human suffering – and, at the same time, I also searched for joy, for goodness, for ways to progress, to grow, and to keep my heart open. I needed to gain an understanding of the greater human experience. I needed to find a way to step even more into who I was meant to be in the world.

Life changes when we decide to own our lives – to be our own hero – and to do it with heart.

My intention is to show an audience what it looks like to truly take charge of their lives at every level. I help people reconnect to their purpose and to their heart – to show up fully in life, in work, and with each other.

SPEAKING.COM: In a nutshell, can you describe your mission as a speaker?

MASSARI: My mission in life – my steadfast commitment – is to comfort, uplift and transform people’s lives. It’s like a reflex, a heartfelt dedication to encourage and nurture people – to bring kindness to every person that I meet, and to help light that inner fire of perseverance and hope.

My intention is to show an audience what it looks like to truly take charge of their lives at every level. I help people reconnect to their purpose and to their heart – to show up fully in life, in work, and with each other.

And it’s not enough to just inspire people. I’m passionate about delivering a soul-stirring message – teaching concepts and tools that expand our way of thinking. It’s so exciting to be able to reach people in this way – to be able to give. I feel so honored and grateful to be living my life’s purpose.

SPEAKING.COM: In your keynotes, you speak about overcoming adversity, the mindset of resilience, and courage, among many other things. Why are these qualities so important to success – both professionally and personally?

MASSARI: Life is full of disappointments, challenges, painful moments and potential hardships. Building our strength of character and will, can give us the edge we need that enables us to overcome any negative experiences or beliefs that hold us back.

If you think about it, none of us would choose for our blocks, fears, or inhibitions to run our lives and make decisions for us. Every one of us wants to experience living in our own buoyant aliveness – to feel that we are in command of our lives.

A life of success requires that we be very brave. We need a willingness to explore and get to know ourselves, face our own fears, and launch into a journey of self-discovery. It starts with intricately studying our reactions to adversity, and learning to operate from a place of awareness, care, and intention. This self-awareness allows us to become who we are meant to be in the world, and to express our unique gifts. Without it, we are just a shadow of ourselves – shrinking from the world.

I am passionate about helping each person become a finely tuned instrument – to live their life with purpose, wholeness and heart. When we have the courage to face our challenges and fears, and learn to successfully navigate adversity, and feel that we actually grow and evolve when we experience difficulties, we become freer, happier, stronger, and more capable in our lives.

This is when the tables turn, when life becomes exciting. This is when we can look at our lives, and at every experience, as an opportunity for growth. And this is how we become more confident and more empowered. Life becomes an adventure.

SPEAKING.COM: You also speak about self-leadership. Why is self-leadership important?

MASSARI: Self-leadership involves taking personal responsibility. In every challenging situation you can ask: “What is my part in this? What am I being shown? How can I respond differently?” This process is extraordinarily liberating, because it means we are not allowing our struggles and conflicts to run us. As a result, we naturally have more ease and confidence as we walk and engage with the world around us.

Even when we have an all-consuming challenge, we also have parts of our lives that are good – a loyal friend who always supports us, a mentor at work who has our back, the pleasure of a hot cup of tea, the joy of a sport we love.

SPEAKING.COM: What is a common misconception that “gets in the way” of people’s well-being?

MASSARI: It’s natural for a person to feel that they can’t live a joy-filled life if they have a struggle, or adversity. Yet, even when we have an all-consuming challenge, we also have parts of our lives that are good – a loyal friend who always supports us, a mentor at work who has our back, the pleasure of a hot cup of tea, the joy of a sport we love. Focusing on those good things, and building our attention on them, makes them become bigger, more important, more meaningful, and mightier than our pain.

Every day, in every moment, we can make a decision on where we place our focus. It’s vital to notice the good things, the blessings, the moments of joy and ease. This is an active practice that ideally can become a part of our daily living.



SPEAKING.COM: Why are some people so difficult to deal with? Can you shed light on how we can create a different approach when in conflict with a difficult person?

MASSARI: People lash out when they are in pain. It could be stress, something they’re dealing with at home, or maybe they’re in physical pain… it could be anything. When someone is mean and does or says something that is hurtful to us, our reflex may be to judge, get defensive, withdraw, try to be clever, attack back, try to win, or to be right… The problem is, we are then instantly at war with this person. And when we are at war there is no resolution – we are divided and separate.

Since we can’t possibly know what is fully happening for someone, it helps to remember that we all have our struggles, we are all working hard, and really, we all want the same things – to be respected, to be appreciated, to feel good about our lives. Remembering this can help us have pause when someone is being unkind or unfair. It can help us not react so quickly – which is the first step in creating a positive outcome.

No matter what our role, when we are confronted, we can make a decision to step in and lead with compassion. In every situation, we have an opportunity to be generous, to be kind, to remove judgement, to disconnect from the drama, and create a shift. Of course, in certain extreme situations, the appropriate response may be to walk away completely and remove yourself from a hostile person. An enormous amount of courage and commitment is required to be a compassionate leader, especially when you are triggered or feel pain.

We cannot control how others respond. We can make a choice to be responsible for our own self and what we are bringing to the dynamic. We can have mastery over how we engage, communicate and creatively problem-solve.

Ultimately all of us can learn the art of disarming conflict. It is absolutely worth the effort to learn this skill, and it takes practice for all of us.

People want to feel seen and cared for in this world. Kindness is deeply healing. Bringing our humanity to each other is deeply healing – to both the giver and the receiver.

SPEAKING.COM: When you were burned, how did compassion from nurses, doctors and caregivers make a difference in your own healing process?

MASSARI: This is one of my favorite topics, along with healing burnout, and managing change. (I customize my content for every industry including healthcare audiences.) In healthcare I am very passionate about nourishing and giving back to those who tirelessly give so much every day to help others.

To give you a little background: my father was an oncology surgeon, and my mother, a nurse. I witnessed my father’s immense and supportive care for his patients and how his kindness impacted people which had a huge effect on me as a child. Inspired by my parents, I too worked in medical office settings. Later in life, after my accidents (yes, there were two), I was a patient for years – on the receiving end of the presence and gentleness of my nurses and doctors. Their compassionate care was profound. It was vital for me in my healing experience. I have learned with absolute certainty that compassion heals the places that medicine cannot touch℠.

When we look kindly into someone’s eyes so that they know they are not alone, or put a supportive hand on someone’s shoulder, or even just genuinely ask, “How are you feeling today?”, these are all powerful gestures that can deeply affect a person. And it only takes seconds!

People want to feel seen and cared for in this world. Kindness is deeply healing. Bringing our humanity to each other is deeply healing – to both the giver and the receiver.

In my keynote to healthcare audiences, I always highlight that everyone, including those without direct patient contact, play a critical role in compassionate patient-centered care.

I also emphasize how leadership can model compassion and kindness with their teams. When the leadership of an organization cares for their staff, this creates an encouraging and inspired work culture, and their kindness inevitably trickles down to benefit the patient.

I am certain that the compassion of my caregivers elevated my entire experience and my recovery in the hospital. Without their presence, my health care would have fallen completely flat. It would have felt empty and cold.

Love is powerful, and it absolutely has a place in healthcare.

ON SPEAKING

I believe wholeheartedly in the power of a compelling and well-told story. If you want people to internalize a message, to experience a real change, you have to sweep them away with a story.

SPEAKING.COM: Can you tell us about any particularly memorable speaking engagements / unusual situations that arose while on the road?

MASSARI: My career as a speaker has given me some of the most enriching and awe-inspiring moments that I’ve had in my life.

The first one that comes to mind is when I spoke on the main stage at the Million Dollar Round Table. It was a profound and humbling experience to be in front of so many people from around the world (8,600 people from 75 countries). They had more translators at that event than they do at the United Nations.

Afterwards, I went backstage to thank the interpreters for sharing my message in all of their native languages. I was eager to show my gratitude. I knew how hard they must have worked, and they had given me such a gift – because of them, my message reached so many countries in a single day. I excitedly entered each country’s sound-proof booth, ready to give each interpreter a big hug, and to my surprise they were jumping up to hug me. In every single booth they greeted me so lovingly, and they were so grateful for my message. It was very emotional for all of us. As I went from booth to booth – from Thailand, to Japan, to Italy, to Germany, to Indonesia, to India, and on and on – I felt an immediate bond with each of them, an instant friendship. Jamaica to my left, Israel to my right – it felt like such a small world – and a world of the sweetest friendships and deepest connections. I will never forget that day as long as I live.

Another spectacular experience was speaking for the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. It was such an alive audience – can you imagine 8,000 critical care nurses all in one room!? There was so much heart in that audience – it was palpable! They were so responsive to every story – so much laughter, so many sighs, such delight. Here I was, coming to love them, to give back to them – and they ended up giving me so very much more. I am still smiling.

As I am reflecting on many of these sweet memories, I am seeing that what has made every event so poignant and memorable is the love and kindness of people. It is always the light of the human spirit that makes everything come alive.

SPEAKING.COM: How do you keep your audience engaged and actively listening during your keynotes?

MASSARI: I believe wholeheartedly in the power of a compelling and well-told story. If you want people to internalize a message, to experience a real change, you have to sweep them away with a story. It has to touch each person’s heart, their mind, to create images, to move them emotionally, to captivate them.

The stories I share are about courage, and about taking personal responsibility for your life. They are an extremely candid sharing of my own dramatic journey. Every single story has layers of take-aways and through them, I reveal answers to some of life’s most difficult questions: How do you truly deal with extreme adversity? How do you adapt when the challenges seem to come non-stop? Is it possible to understand that very difficult person? Is there a purpose to suffering? What does it take to be ok in this world and to thrive?

Even though my story is unique and personal, the nuggets of wisdom that I share are incredibly relatable to everyone. They provide vital and immediately actionable tools to handle a difficult situation, cope with adversity, to feel encouraged, supported, and motivated.

My keynote is ideal for clients who are invested in the well-being of their leadership teams, employees, and customers, and who want to help revive and restore passion, as well as inspire personal and professional growth.

SPEAKING.COM: What type of client would most benefit from your message?

MASSARI: My message is universal. It’s a celebration of the incredible power, resilience and courage of the human spirit. My keynote is ideal for clients who are invested in the well-being of their leadership teams, employees, and customers, and who want to help revive and restore passion, as well as inspire personal and professional growth.

I’ve had wonderful feedback from larger organizations including GE Healthcare, SAS, and Siemens, as well as from smaller events like leadership retreats and hospital association conferences. I speak to every industry including Healthcare, Finance, Insurance, Sales, IT, Real Estate, Energy, Agriculture, and Non-profits.

I love to come and deliver my speech when a group is undergoing big changes, or is having to manage a very high stress environment, or are dealing with burnout. My commitment is to deliver a grounded message of true hope and to ultimately elevate an audience in a lasting way.

After my accidents, and after working for so many years on my own healing, I woke up one day with an intense desire to share what I had learned. It was like a fire within. I had learned how to navigate my way out of pain, I had learned to overcome challenges, to find my way to a life that is beautiful.

SPEAKING.COM: What inspired you to start doing speaking engagements?

MASSARI: It was a desire to help people, for no person to feel alone, and to let people know what is possible.

Prior to becoming a speaker I was a full-time artist – making paintings, sculptures, and mixed media work. Even as an artist, my passion was always to touch people in a meaningful way, and create an impact. I wanted to find the common thread that unites us as humans, and to honestly share my own vulnerability in order for the viewer to feel seen.

After my accidents, and after working for so many years on my own healing, I woke up one day with an intense desire to share what I had learned. It was like a fire within. I had learned how to navigate my way out of pain, I had learned to overcome challenges, to find my way to a life that is beautiful. I knew in my bones that it was time to share with others, everything that I’d learned about life, to offer this incredible message of hope.

That’s when the spoken word became a new art medium for me. I have completely devoted myself to the art of speaking. I’m very aware of the way the sound of my voice and the cadence of my words and pauses land on the audience. When I speak on stage I think of that same sensitivity and awareness of how a brushstroke lands on a canvas.

A beautifully crafted speech has the power to change someone’s world. It can shift their entire paradigm. The greatest gift for me is when I get emails years later from people who explain how they still think about my speech every day, or that it changed the way they see their life, or that they still use the tools at their work that I shared. These emails are incredibly moving for me. They fuel my devotion to keep growing and improving my craft as a speaker.

Now everything has come full circle. My visual artwork is now an integral part of my speaking. My entire keynote has a PowerPoint with my artwork as the backdrop. Each image has been chosen to match the feelings of the particular story I am telling, enveloping the audience in a very full and unique visual, sensory, and oratory experience. I want to sweep them away, to lift them up, to encourage hope, and to create a shift in thinking so that they can view their lives from new coordinates. This is the heart of my mission and my passion. I give them my whole self.

© 2018 Allison Massari – This content is the copyright work of Allison Massari and Massari Fine Arts, LLC. No reproduction without written permission.

To bring motivational keynote speaker Allison Massari to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com

© SPEAKING.com, published on June 17, 2018

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