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Shifting From Threat To Challenge

Way back in February 2016, Kathy wrote a blog post called, “Is Workplace Trauma The Key To Success?” about how we can turn tragedy into doable challenges that move us forward.

She wrote:

Your greatest power in the face of adversity is your power to choose how you will react—that’s where Asset-Based Thinking comes in.

How do you choose to see this trauma? As a threat or a challenge?

Well, since then we at The Cramer Institute faced a staggering personal and professional trauma. On July 13, 2016, our beloved Kathy very unexpectedly passed away from complications of cancer.

If we weren’t before, we are now intimately aware of the how difficult it can be shift into an Asset-Based Thinking mindset when confronted with extreme adversity.

Kathy’s February post was the the first in a series she planned to write about the Four Stages of Self-Empowerment Through ABT. In her honor and with her guiding spirit, we will continue this series.

This post introduces the first stage: Shifting From Threat to Challenge. We certainly have a lot of personal experience to draw from that we’d like to share with you.


A major life trauma is frightening and overwhelming, with much of our fear stemming from the uncertainty of our new reality. This holds true for personal and professional losses.

The world as we know it is shattered and we feel robbed of the resources we depended on to stay healthy and happy. It is a time of major upheaval, mental disorientation and perhaps shock, along with strong drive to end the crisis.

Most people start the process of adjusting to trauma in a state of unresolved threat. Symptoms include:

  • Being in a daze
  • Numbness
  • Waves of feeling overwhelmed
  • Shame or guilt
  • Episodes of sadness and crying, as well as euphoria and excitement
  • Rage
  • Preoccupation with the past
  • Rumination over loss
  • Easily startled
  • Frightening dreams

This is totally normal and natural. The strengths that you normally count on to help you function—your patience, energy, optimism, and self-control—have dwindled. You lost them to the trauma itself or you have used them up trying to hang on in this new upside-down world. Just when you need them the most, your resources are gone.

When Kathy passed, I was in total disbelief. I had and still have many, many episodes of deep sadness, as well as times of being angry that this—my loss, our loss—could have actually happened.

Suffice it to say it was really hard to get back to work.

The resources I usually counted on to excel professionally—my clarity of direction and confidence in knowing how to “get there”—were totally depleted. And in the midst of seeing and trying to hold on to all of the many details that needed to be handled, I felt like my capacity to see the big picture had been lost.

I felt lost.

You Have “Just Enough” To Face The Challenge of The Moment

When tragedy strikes, you may be thinking, “I’ll never be happy again” or “I don’t have the energy to focus on work,” or “I don’t have the will to move on.”

While true, these thoughts are very discouraging and may well promote a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. They are not helpful.

The first step in shifting from threat to challenge is thinking in terms of much smaller short-term goals. You must believe that you have “just enough” of whatever you need to make one positive step forward.

“I have just enough time to make one phone call before I leave.

“I have just enough energy to work on my pitch for 10 minutes.”

“I have just enough will to take this one step toward updating my resume.”

When you believe you have “just enough” you begin to accept the challenge of the moment as opposed to being paralyzed by the trauma. From the vantage point of doable challenges, you can couple yourself to the momentum of the crisis. You flow with it and direct it toward results that will restore your health and happiness.

My “Just Enough” Motivation

For me, I had “just enough” belief in the impact of our work here at The Cramer Institute and in the power of an ABT mindset to be able to move forward.

So many of our clients wrote to tell us about how Kathy’s and our work had positively impacted their lives, as well as their organizations. We heard countless stories of leaders being transformed, of cultures evolving, and of just how that shift from a positive to a negative attitude changed the experience of a challenging situation.

By really listening and taking in these encouraging words about Kathy’s positive impact, I found a new resolve to carry on our work. These stories opened up my eyes to the significant support and belief in our work that we could draw on going forward. It helped me to start the process of reaching out to our clients with a reaffirmed level of confidence. Knowing the many levels of positive impact and even transformation that are possible was a huge motivator to continue sharing the power of Asset-Based Thinking with leaders around the world.

In the next post, I’ll delve deeper into the process of shifting from threat to challenge, including acknowledging your fears, identifying opportunities, challenging yourself, and confronting danger.