What’s Your Signature Struggle?

photo by kabils

photo by kabils

I walk out of the conference and ride the elevator to my room. I’m with people I love and who love me. And yet as I change into comfy clothes and begin to drift off to sleep thoughts like this run through my mind…

Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. What if she thinks I’m prideful?

I hope so-and-so understood why I sat at a different table.

I wish I weren’t so quiet sometimes.

The next day I feel a little more cautious because I’m nervous about messing up. And that only makes me worry more. It’s a cycle I’ve come to recognize because these are my signature struggles.

I have them and you do too. And here’s the upside: Your signature struggles are related to your signature strengths.

A couple of years ago my wise and wonderful life coach helped me figure that out. She asked, “Holley, what are you really afraid of?” as I expressed a list of concerns.

I replied, “I’m afraid people will misunderstand my heart and I will hurt my relationships.” 

I think she giggled a bit {I like that about her} and said, “Of course. That’s because you’re all about encouraging the hearts of women. You value understanding and connection so you struggle most when those things feel threatened.”

Ah-ha! A little lightbulb went on inside my head. As I thought back to the times in the past few years when I felt the most fear it always involved that concern: Someone will misunderstand my heart and I will hurt the relationship.

To this day when I feel fear rising up within me it’s usually related to that as well.

But here’s where my life coach helped me grow: I now understand why that happens and what I can do about it. For example, I might have an extra conversation with someone to make sure I was clear and they felt loved. Or I can connect with a wise friend and get feedback about an event so I understand how I actually came across.

Because here’s the thing: our signature struggles are not going away. They can be no fun but they support our strengths. To get rid of them would be to lose a core part of who we are.

But we can learn to leverage them in two important, positive ways..

First, use your signature struggles to inform you about what matters most to you. Think of your greatest fears. Whatever you’re afraid of losing is something you highly value.

Next, use your signature struggle as opportunities to grow your strengths. You have two choices when those struggles get triggered: withdraw or lean into them. For example, withdrawing for me would mean hiding out at conferences. Leaning into that struggle means making sure I connect with people in encouraging ways.

None of us like our signature struggles. I’d be glad to toss mine out the conference hotel window. Heh.

But the reality is, they’re here to stay. And they can turn out to be a gift in unexpected ways.

Think for a moment…what do you fear and what does that say about what matters most to you? How can you turn that around and make it something that actually helps you and your relationships?


p.s. You’re Made for a God-sized Dream landed at #6 on the Barnes & Noble bestsellers list this week. Woo-hoo! Because it did so well, Amazon is offering it for half-off {$6.99}. I don’t know how long that price will last…


  1. says

    Oh, dear Holley, I share the identical fear. I so want to encourage moms to have stronger and more satisfying relationships, and have wondered too often if I came on too strong, or rambled too much, or overwhelmed them with information, or if they felt I was better than them. The perspective of that weakness being a place to grow my strengths is a powerful one, and I thank you for that!

    • Lorraine Bennett-Daley says

      Kim, I would love to see mothers have stronger and more satisfying relationships with their children. Somehow, I feel mothering is more than how it is being done and its a burden on my heart. I too, try to encourage this and I tend to ramble and become very overwhelmed when I get into a conversation about the subject. I sometimes fear the interpretation of the listener, and often walk away wondering if I made the impact that I had intended. I fear the language of my heart being misunderstood. I lean into it, and go the extra mile just to ensure that I am not misunderstood.

  2. says

    As usual, God has gifted you with the words I needed to hear. This morning, I blogged about my own tendencies to withdraw, to hibernate, as it were, when it all gets to be too much. And since writing it all out, God has been showing me just what you wrote: We have to keep fighting for our freedom, lean into our weaknesses. Paul went so far as to brag only about his weaknesses, for it was there, he was told, that God’s light shined brightest and His power was strongest. (2 Cor 4:7 and 12:9)

    I feel like God gave you the next piece I needed. As I explore what my deepest fears are now, the ones tempting me to keep hiding, it IS important to know where they came from, what they are and what they reflect about my heart. That those weaknesses might be the inverse of my strengths is a big AH-HA moment for me as well! Like maybe these fears might actually be USEFUL indicators, as they were meant to be.

    I look forward to explore this more! It’s like a fresh breeze just wafted through my stagnant cave. Life and light is come again! Thank you, Holley!

    (direct link to today’s post, Freedom: http://www.walkagape.org/2013/02/freedom.html)

  3. Deborah Henry says

    1) What I speak and what I really want to speak do not match. I have been out-of-the-loop for a long time. The words are in my heart and head; I think my confidence in myself is gone.

  4. says

    Holley, to me it is amazing how God works and how He used you to encourage me today. I have really struggled with writing in English as it might offend someone. Spanish is so much easier to be real. My blog is in both languages, sometimes the same article, sometimes different ones. I wrote one last night in Spanish being REAL with my girlfriends, and was pondering if I should write the same in English, because I know some may take it wrong, but I guess if that happens, I need to just explain and have that extra conversation. I don’t want to please people, but I also hate the idea of not sharing, because it is who I am and what I’m struggling with. THANK YOU (like Kim said in her comment). It is an area for me to GROW and see that through my weakness, HE can use me! TO GOD BE THE GLORY!

  5. says

    I have similar fears and definitely recognize my desire to encourage. I too often get down over misunderstandings that I don’t have a clue how to fix, or that the other party doesn’t have interest in fixing. I was encouraged by your examples of ways to lean into those signature struggles which are definitely me!

    • Cindy says

      Yes, LaDonna:

      I, too, “get down over misunderstandings that I don’t have a clue how to fix, or that the other doesn’t have interest in fixing.” My husband calls me, “Mrs. Fix-it Fox.” That is negative as I often try to fix things I can’t, or the other person doesn’t want to change/doesn’t care. May we learn how to profitably lean into those signature struggles. God bless you richly! Because of Jesus…

  6. says

    Oh, Holley. I can so identify–with fearing my heart being misunderstood, and the whole conference thing:) Confession: I had similar thoughts running through my mind at Allume. I debated whether or not to introduce myself to you, not wanting overwhelm you or take time away from the friends I’m sure you don’t get to see as often as you’d like. So, I didn’t, but God is good…and now we are dreaming together. One day, I will give you a proper hug in person, and we will have lots to talk about:)

  7. says

    Oh, this is sooo good, Holley. I’m finding new strengths every day, but I realize it’s God’s strength in me to accomplish what HE wants me to. He steps in and gives me the courage and gives me the words just when I need them. He is SO good!
    Thanks for this post :)

  8. Saty says

    I just thought you’re talking about me in pinpointing the fears while in a conference or a meeting. I just am silent sometimes fearing I;m not able to express the thought in my head with the corresct words… & the fears pile-up, I am encouraged to read about people or ladies who have similar fears… Thank You Hooly

    • Cindy says

      Hi, Saty: Praise God for you! I, too, am often silent fearing I’m not able to express the thoughts in my head, or my input really doesn’t go with the discussion, or I won’t have time to say it, or what I have to say won’t matter anyway, or any number of other things. Too much going on in my head – should be tuned in to the Holy Spirit and obediently follow His leading. Thank you for helping me think about this a little more, Saty. Let’s pray for one another as God leads. God bless you richly! Because of Jesus…

  9. Jo says

    I understand what is said here BUT what do you do if your worries/signatures involve health issues you have no control over: kidney failure and on dialysis; diabetes; heart functioning only at 30%; kidney transplant that quit working after a surgeon messed up a minor procedure; several things wrong with your back and you aren’t even 60 yet??? I’m hanging in there with God’s help, doing what I can with diet, meds and exercise limited. Any suggestions would be highly appreciated.

    • Lorraine Bennett-Daley says

      Jo, your article is touching and I thought to myself what could I possibly say to you. If your health is your signature fear, and your fear is come to pass then you will most likely choose to lean into them and connect with programs, institutions and persons who can encourage you as you deal with the reality of your worst fears and find comfort in God and in his promises in the Bible. God’s Bible is loaded with promises to the man who makes Him lord over his life. So as you struggle to lean into your struggles and to deal with the reality of it all lean into God to give you the strength, healing and comfort you need. Your signature struggle is pointing you in one direction, to God your Father who holds all the answers you could ever need, in Jesus Name. May God stand with you as you go through your trials and may he comfort you.

    • Nancy says

      Jo, I so understand what you are dealing with each day. Ilive with Chronic vestibular problems, so I can’t go out to a restaurant, church, most outside activities as the lights, noise and sound make me very, very dizzy and dis-oriented. I spend much time talking with the Lord each day. I get much comfort and encouragement that HE totally understands how I feel and what I am going through each day. Iknow that the Lord has allowed this in my life for a reason. I have grown much, much closer to the Lord and he has used this circumstance in my life to show me how to Praise Him in all situations. I’ve learned that nothing is going to happen until I talk to the Lord about it! You mayfind (Jesus Calling) by Sarah Young a helpful devotion. Since I can’t attend church,I have a prayer group meet in my home. My prayer sisters are a tremendous support to me. I will be praying for you dear sister ! Just know there are other christian sisters who understand what you are going through.
      Please feel to e-mail me. Saying a prayer for you right now!

  10. Lorraine Bennett-Daley says

    Holly, I have several signature struggles…I am passionate about things and I have had signature struggles all my life as a result. I am passionate about children, young persons, my inter personal relationship with others and God, etc….I basically live a life of passion. In earlier times in my life, I thought something must be wrong with me as a person, why I hated to hurt people’s feelings and was assured by a friend that nothing was wrong with me and that served as great comfort.

    I read your article today and could identify with what you wrote. It is a fact that the signature struggles are related to our signature strengths because what I struggle over is really who I am…my strength. I too take pride in my heart and what it feels and gives to others and I am always afraid of the fact that people will misunderstand my heart and inevitably, I will end up hurting my relationships. I tried all my life to protect that until over a year ago when the devil attacked me through this strength of mine through a co-worker of 22 years. The attack was devastating and I felt like I had lost more than a relationship, I felt like I had lost who I really was. I have always been able to keep that signature strength in tact until that day when it all happened. I know both the fear of it all and have had to deal with the actual reality of it.

    I am about encouraging the hearts of people in general and I value understanding and connection and when that feels threatened I do struggle, and when it actually gives way to my worst fear, its terrible to accept. Through the strength of God, I am accepting it with such grace and the acceptance experience is wonderful, better than the pain I felt.

    At the moment , my greatest fear is to displease God…yes, thats my ultimate signature struggle and yes, its of great value to me. God has been sooooo good to me and I simply cannot afford to lose that relationship. Your article hits home in that your suggestion to lean in and make certain I connect with my God is indeed what the signature struggle has pushed me to do. I am using my signature struggle as an opportunity to grow in my relationship with my God and I treat him as the Father he is and relate to Him in that way as well. It is a fact that this signature struggle is here to stay, thank God, and it is a gift that I would never trade. When you have a signature struggle with God, its the best thing that can ever happen to a human being in this world. I encourage my sisters and yourself, have a signature struggle with God, the reward is sooooo wonderful. All the best Holly, great article.

  11. says

    Wow, Holley! This SO resonates. I think I’ll share it on FB and bless a few more people. : )

    I think of you daily. Of course, it helps that I keep seeing your lovely name in my inbox. ; )

    You go, Girl! Keep writing and loving for Jesus!

  12. says

    Thank you. I needed to hear this today.
    Your insights help me understand some of my struggles better as it relates to my strengths and my values.
    To to be understood, and to understand yourself, is freeing.

    Keep up the good writing!

  13. says

    Thank you for explaining my fears to me. I struggle with the same voices in my head. I do care about each person and how I reflect Christ to them. But I thought I was not doing my job very well. Now I realize I should not pull back but press forward. Thank you again, Starla

  14. Cindy says

    Thank you, Holley, for shedding new light on a long standing problem/concern in my life. God bless you richly!

    Because of Jesus,

  15. Yvonne says

    My signature struggle is hurting people’s feelings so I tend to go out of my way to make sure people are comfortable and sometimes at my own expense or I feel i have outstayed my welcome and cut of a conversation.

    Thank you for showing me that I should lean into this struggle and ralise that I can not be everything for all people and relaise that I am human and there are sometimes that I will not please everyone and be at peace with that.

  16. Mary Morin says

    I fear being overlooked and not having a voice and a platform because my greatest strength is in noticing, serving, and speaking out on behalf of people who are overlooked in the world and the Church. So i get overwhelmed when I see churches adding more programs, and having more superstar leaders and conferences, and feel discouraged about the work I’m doing (and the novel I’m wiritng); sometimes I want to give up because they seem so much more favored, connected and powerful, and it feels like I am swimming upsteam and screaming but no one hears!

  17. says

    I walk out of a conference and can’t believe I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting you in person at Allume! I know this isn’t what this is about, but you are such a lovely beautiful generous woman. And I am so darn thankful for you. Funny, I was visiting over at Karen Ehman’s blog. And she’s talking about the need for approval. Oh yes, that would be a signature struggle for me. Because what matters to me most is people. I love them (in general) and I never want to hurt anyone. I desire to be kind, caring, encouraging. I guess that’s the strength side. But the struggle side leads to such pain from rejection and comparison and (ugh) jealousy…and oh she likes her better than me…and I wish I was____ like her…and no one cares about what I have to say or write. Yuck! These really are a pack of lies. But they’re powerful and I don’t want to live in the wake of them. I would be a total mess without God. He has really shown me His love and acceptance. I know that seems almost unreal. But it’s true. Through the hardest part of life and the deepest struggles I have found Him…there all the time…never leaving or forsaking…always merciful and forgiving…and full of acceptance and the real hope that He will be the One to form me into a better likeness of Him.

    • Anita says

      Hi Elise,
      Thanks to GOD that in this race that is set before us, we don’t compete against each other. Our LORD once told me, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world. Live to please ME alone”. I pass this on to you. When we live to please HIM alone, we cease to be silly puppets on strings and live freely in HIM. We were born to fly!

  18. Anita says

    What an amazing perspective! My greatest fear in the “past” was losing HIM or being eternally separated from my JESUS. We are HIS own forever not because of anything in ourselves but because of HIS eternal grace upon us. As HIS Word says grace is undeserved favour from GOD. So only the undeserving can receive HIS grace. So I don’t have any reason to fear as long as I know that I don’t deserve HIS love and yet HE loves me endlessly. And yes, this fear can keep me free from self-righteous lies. Thanks Coach!

  19. says

    I am not without many signature struggles. I was confronted with one this afternoon. I was at my son’s preschool for their Mardi Gras parade (I live in South Louisiana). Not for the first time, I noticed how small my son is compared to the other kids in his class. It brings up a lot of secret fears I have about being a mother. For example, I worry that he did not get enough to eat when I was breastfeeding him and that it is my fault he is smaller than “normal”. I try so hard to be a good mother and most times I feel like one, but there are days like this afternoon, when I beat myself up. Thank you so much for this post because it gives me new eyes to see. The real truth is that if I wasn’t a great mother, I wouldn’t even entertain thoughts like these. I am reminded of the verse (Mark 9:24) “Lord, I belive, help my unbelief.” This is definitely a way to help my unbelief.

  20. Christy says

    Thank you, Holly :) I have a terrible fear of losing my husband. I feel it every time I look at him. Reading your message helped me to realize that it’s just because I value him do much! He’s not going anywhere until he takes a dirt bath is the way he puts it!!

  21. jyotsna says

    Thanks Holley for this message-it was just for me. Yesterday my superior shouted at me very badly, don’t know what my fault was. This is not the first time but my whole day was messed up, I was upset, today morning also I didnt want to attend office, your message made me feel that I should move forward and should not hide for no mistake of mine.

  22. Lynne says

    Wow! That is a life changer blog! I am sharing this with my friends , etc. Please pray I use this insight into my nightly fears and signature struggles. I am so tired of insecurity, indecisiveness, and general ” fighting for my thoughts”. Blessings all!

  23. Beth Horvath says

    Signature struggles are a part of life, but it’s nice that you finally give them a name…I struggle with making a difference that matters. I know you plant one seed at a time, but it seems that the seeds aren’t growing fast enough or germinating,. However, I know it’s in God’s time, not Beth’s time…that’s my major struggle currently. Thanks for shedding your helpful light on it.

  24. says

    Yes yes yes! That’s it! “your signature struggles to inform you about what matters most to you.” It doesn’t make it easier when the struggles come, but it at least gives us motivation to TRY to face and press through them. So glad you do that – we’re all so blessed when you do!!

  25. says

    This is so interesting, but I do wonder what my signature struggle says about my signature strength. My greatest struggle is fitting in, and doing so without compromising who I am. For the larger part of my childhood and adolescence, I was not myself, trying to fit in everywhere and wondering what people thought of me and trying to make sure I didn’t say the wrong things, etc.
    I finally found myself, but in finding myself, a lot of relationships got broken because I was not willing to give it up again. Now I am who I am and I stand strong in that, but I struggle to make friends or get close to people because… well, because of a lot of things, but mostly a fear of rejection and not being accepted.
    I am a very hard person to like because most people like their little boxes and I refuse to live in a box anymore…

  26. Donna says

    Holly: So many things come to mind about your writing on Signature Struggle. I have always said “i am sitting on the fence” because I get overwhelmed with opportunities; so much that I say no to everything…I now will pray when I am on the fence, and take a chance. I feel if you do not try something, you will never know if it is something you will be passionate about.


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