The Highlands Company Blog

Are You Paddling With the Flow? Or Against It?

Maura Koutoujian is a Highlands Consultant who uses the Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) in her practice as a career and wellness coach. The most compelling tools are often those that have worked for us personally. That’s the case for Maura and the HAB. In the following article, Maura describes her personal journey with the HAB and how understanding her natural abilities profoundly changed the way that she approaches her work.

Imagine yourself walking along a riverbank. You are heading downstream with a canoe over your shoulder. You get about 100 yards down the river and put your canoe in the water; you then paddle forcefully upstream.

Now imagine placing your canoe in the water right where you are standing and paddling gently downstream…floating along with the current while navigating the river with ease.

Like many people I fell into the trap of walking downstream and paddling back up as a way of showing my “strength”—my ability to overcome my weaknesses. Sometimes I simply did it because I just didn’t know there was another way.  

Whether I was learning, problem-solving, or communicating, I continued to combat my natural competencies in order to perform the way I thought I should.

I rarely gave myself credit for my innate abilities; if it came easily I didn’t value it and dismissed it as ordinary. I spent so much time trying to mitigate my weaknesses—putting my energy into ways of thinking, doing, and being that did not always feel natural. I made it to my destination but there was often much stress and strain.  

When we engage with our abilities with ease we often don’t give ourselves credit. In fact, we often assume that if we can do something well then everyone else can do it too and don’t honor our gifts. And, when we don’t do something naturally and innately we still make the assumption that everyone else can do it and we can see ourselves as inferior. Because of this we are less likely to see it as our strength—our power. We rarely give ourselves credit for our accomplishments that come with ease.

I often found myself challenged to put ideas and plans in a linear order. One unexpected addition or change could derail me. The way I was taught of creating outlines for writing papers and organizing thoughts and concepts felt foreign to me and I would become frustrated. I thought, ”I’m smart…what is wrong with me…why can’t I do this?” I would put my head down into my work and stress and overthink until I felt utter analysis paralysis.

My big aha moment was at age 51 when I took the HAB! Within the two problem solving abilities I saw that my Classification (ability to see relationships between seemingly unrelated things; a more diagnostic approach) was high and my Concept Organization (the ability to problem solve in a linear and analytical way) was not quite as strong. This was nothing new—what was new was that I now had the language to articulate my abilities. What I once considered my “weird and quirky” way of looking at the world was actually a strength. I could see exactly why I do what I do and the manner in which I do it. I had permission to be me.

Soon after taking the assessment I was preparing a four-hour seminar on leadership for college students. I sat there staring at my computer and began to mentally shut down. I thought about my abilities and remembered that I have strong Design Memory.

“What if I combine my high Classification, Idea productivity and Design Memory to MindMap my thoughts to create structure for the workshop?”

This has been one of my most exciting discoveries in my journey of self awareness. I now enjoy creating talks, presentations, and workshops because I use my strengths to organize my thoughts and I am having fun. I don’t have to create order initially; I keep the ideas flowing—I see the relationships visually. My entire view of what I am capable of has opened up. I have a sense of pride in my way of being in the world.

I no longer work to overcome the abilities that aren’t as strong and I actually turn to the other, either individually or in concert, to help me navigate. I am in flow and I am paddling down the river.

Maura Koutoujian Highlands Certified ConsultantHighlands Consultant Maura Koutoujian, PCC, CPHC, works with emerging adults, individuals, leaders and creative teams to find new ways of thinking and growing their agility, resilience, and creativity in the face of uncertainty to inspire action. She is the founder of Coaching Through Conversation. Contact Maura at