Why You Don’t Deserve Gifts

giftsWhy You Don’t Deserve Gifts

Gifts. They’re an almost essential part of the holiday experience. At this time of year, we can all relate in the context of Christmas or Hannukah or Diwali, but even throughout the year, gifts often accompany celebrations of all sorts.

Gifts can be fun to give, fun to receive, fun to open and fun to purchase or make. They can also, however, be laden with all sorts of emotional baggage, including guilt and such. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. At the very least, guilt can enter the equation when one considers the idea of reciprocity; there’s often an unspoken question of whether or not the gifts being exchanged were of equal value. And if they’re not – if one person gives or receives a gift that is perceived to be worth more or less, there’s a certain amount of guilt that shows up.

The other emotionally charged experience when it comes to gifts is that of “deserving” as in “do I deserve this gift?” Indeed, our culture perpetuates this notion in the language of “Santa’s naughty list” or “nice list” as the case may be. The idea is that you need to behave a certain way in order to be worthy – or deserving – of gifts.

But here’s the thing. Nobody deserves a gift. Why not? Because gifts are not things to be earned or deserved. Gifts are simply given and received, no strings attached. If it’s something that’s deserved, or earned, then it’s not a gift, it’s a reward. There’s a difference.

Think about it. When you work hard at something, when you prove yourself to be deserving, there’s a payoff at the end. It could be as simple as a sense of accomplishment, or something more concrete like a certificate of recognition, a raise, a token of merit – whatever. These are rewards, they’re not gifts.

Gifts, on the other hand, are given freely, without consideration of merit. Or at least, they should be. A true gift is something that is given because it wants to be given. It’s done without expectation, and without being attached to behavior or merit. The minute it’s attached to anything, it ceases to be a gift.

Bottom-line: stop asking whether or not you deserve to receive a gift; you don’t. Stop asking whether or not others deserve to receive a gift; they don’t. Gifts are not deserved or earned. They are freely given and graciously received. This is what makes a gift, a gift.

shutterstock_115748269Prepare to Create Some Holiday Magic (Yes, You Can!)

‘Tis the season to be jolly. At least, that’s what the popular Christmas carol would have us believe. And yet, as I look around me, I see so many people who are anything but jolly. Stressed, tired, hurried, harried – sure, but definitely not jolly.  I’m very aware that this season – the Christmas season for me, that of Hannukah, or Diwali or Kwanza for others – is supposed to be one of peace, of joy, and of beauty.  On an intrinsic, cellular level, however, I also know that the intention of this time of year is often in direct contrast to what many experience.  Why is that?  Why are things so crazy-busy, driving many to the brink of breakdown, when the season itself is supposed to be about something completely different?

Before I answer that question for you, let me confess:  overall, I’m actually okay with the busy, hectic pace of the season.  There’s something very vibrant, and alive about the whole thing.  Yes, it can be draining, like anything else that you partake of in huge quantities.  But it can also be invigorating, at least for me.  I’m weird that way.  The hustle and bustle is part of the experience that I savour.  It’s busy.  The malls are crowded and loud.  I have to wait in lines – sometimes really long ones! – to make my purchases.  But I’m okay with that.  I always have been.  There’s something about the energy of people that I just love (although admittedly, I am particularly grateful for the peace and tranquility that awaits me at home following a day of shopping). 

Now, I get that not everyone enjoys the sort of frenetic pace that seems to go hand-in-hand with this season.  But I have to wonder how much of the frenzy gets created by the lack of two specific qualities: namely, clarity and patience.  What might be possible if, despite the busy-ness that abounds during the holidays – whether brought on by shopping, baking, wrapping, decorating or whatever else – every one of us could make a conscious decision to first and foremost, get clear on what matters to each of us at this season, and second to  flow with things, to be kind and patient, to be at our best in the midst of it all?  I’ll tell you what would be possible:  a thoroughly enjoyable holiday. 

You see, no matter who you are, what you celebrate, how you celebrate or with whom, what I know for sure is that when you can take the time to clarify what really matters to you, and then make the decision to breathe, to slow down, to savour and enjoy the experience – yes, even the mad holiday shopping experience – everything really does flow with ease.  That line-up that’s 50 people deep?  It passes much quicker when you can converse with the person in front of you, or do a bit of people watching.  That parking space that seems so elusive at the mall?  It somehow shows up when you just exhibit a bit of patience.  Those crazy family-folk who drive you nuts because they’re just so not like you?  Somehow you can find a way to be with them in a positive space when you determine that for whatever reason having them as part of your experience matters to you, and you create a concrete picture of how “being with them” will look. How do I know this?  Because I’ve been there, done that and lived to tell the tale.

Bottom-line:  ‘tis the season to be whatever you choose to be. The holidays are only ever as beautiful, as crazy, as peaceful as you create them to be.  It really is the season to reach into your soul, clarify how you want to experience the holidays, and then determine to do just that.  ‘Tis the season to create the magic, even when it seems like it’s nowhere to be found.  You have the power.  So engage it.  Be deliberate about your holiday experience.  And watch the frenzy turn into fun.

happy1How Well Do You Own Your Greatness?

What makes you think you’re so special? This is a question I hear a lot of people ask of others.  Heck, sometimes it’s asked of me.  Often, there’s a sneering energy that accompanies the question, a taunt of sorts, the underlying suggestion always being that you are not as great as you think you are.  And sometimes, the people on the receiving end of this question are deserving of the taunt; they’re holding themselves as better than others, placing themselves on a pedestal, thinking that nobody measures up to them.

Often, however, the person on the receiving end of the question isn’t the culprit that he or she is being portrayed to be.  The culprit, instead, is the asker of the question.  And the issue isn’t thinking too highly of one’s self, it’s not thinking highly enough.  So rather than take a moment or two to discover their inner greatness, they’ll stand in their perceived “weakness” and endeavour to bring others down to that level.  After all, it’s so much easier to stay stuck where you are, rather than rise up to where you want to be, right?

I bring this up in today’s article I’ve come to understand that there is a fine line between excessive pride and excessive humility.  Neither of these perspectives will serve you very well, no matter who you are.  When you hold yourself as greater than what you are, knowing everything, needing nothing from others and always at the top of your game, you will eventually take yourself out of the game.  Nobody wants to play with someone who’s arrogant and a know-it-all.  On the flip side, if you place yourself on a “lesser playing field” of sorts, you’ll rarely be asked to join the game and, if you are asked, you won’t be able to play to your full potential.  Why?  Because others won’t necessarily put in the effort to find out what your potential is.  Or, if they do invest the effort at the outset, they’ll stop championing you forward the minute they realize that they’re more invested in your success than you are.

Part of your job as a human being is to discover, know and own your inner strengths.  What are the particular gifts and talents that belong to you?  What are you great at?  Another part of your job as a human being is to balance this knowledge of your strengths, with knowledge of your weaknesses.  Where can you use support?  What is your Achilles’ heel?  And once you know these two sides of you, you need to stand in what makes you great, while acknowledging where you need help.  This is the essence of confidence.

No matter what your spiritual beliefs, one of the things I know for sure – and this is confirmed for me as I look around the world – is that each and every person on the planet has an innate set of gifts, strengths, and talents as well as areas that need some refinement.  Everyone knows something; nobody knows everything.  Your job is to truly stand in your greatness, knowing that there is greatness in you, and balance this with the knowledge that there are aspects of you that need some work.

Bottom-line:  downplaying your greatness is just as much of a disservice to you as making yourself better than you are.  There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance; and there’s a fine line between humility and lack of self-esteem.  In both cases, bring yourself right up to the line – and make sure you don’t cross over. 

eastern_gray_squirrel_73_by_easterngraysquirrel-d5wpwy0Losing Focus? Here’s How to Get It Back

As I sat down to write this ezine, I had the strangest experience. I drew a complete and total blank. Really. It was so bizarre. I’d never experienced this degree of “empty-mind” before. Don’t get me wrong, my mind was swirling with thoughts; but nothing would crystallize. NOTHING.

The strangest piece of it was that I had gone to bed the night before, and woken up that morning with a sense of what to write. I remember thinking, “oh, that would be a great ezine topic” – and then when it came time to write, I couldn’t recall what my fabulous idea had been. So, what did I do? I reached out to my facebook community for help (isn’t that what we all do?). I asked them to ask me a question or two, anticipating that this might jumpstart my writing process. The first question? “Why do we lose focus?”

Hmph. My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and think, dear Lord, if I knew the answer to that I wouldn’t be in this boat, would I?! And then I sat with the question and thought two things: 1) that’s a really good question and 2), maybe I do know the answer to that. So here’s what I came up with.

Based on my own experience, my sense is that we lose focus when we’re not committed and when we’re distracted. No matter what it is that takes us off track, these two culprits – lack of commitment and distraction – are to blame. They kind of go hand-in-hand. When you’re insufficiently committed to an idea or plan, things can take you off track.

Distractions can take all sorts of forms: the needs of others; the needs (or perceived needs) of your own; noise; action; movement; animals (think, “squirrel!!”); menial tasks; books; requests – the list could keep going.

Knowing that these two things are ultimately what have you lose focus, the question now becomes, “What do you do about it?” How do you ensure that you get your focus back?

Well, having been through the experience myself, here’s what I’ve found helpful and effective:

  1. Take a deep breath or two. This serves to bring you back to the present moment, to the task at hand.
  2. Close your eyes. This serves to shut out the world around you, to connect yourself with yourself.
  3. Ask yourself what it is about this task that matters to you. Why did you take on this endeavour in the first place?
  4. Take a moment to recommit. In other words, ask yourself if this task still matters.
    • If it doesn’t LET IT GO – it’s not worth your time.
    • If it does, construct a framework in which you’ll work. Set the timer, close the door, whatever it takes to confine yourself for a specific stretch of time, for the task at hand.
  5. Acknowledge yourself for whatever progress you’ve made.
  6. Repeat.

Bottom-line: losing focus happens to everyone at some point. Regaining focus isn’t as challenging as you might think. The root of the matter lies in increasing commitment and decreasing the distractions. Become aware of these two elements, and you’re well on your way to increasing your ability to maintain focus.  

man-multi-taskingSuper-Busy? Stop Doing This! 

In my last few ezines, I’m pretty sure I’ve made reference in one way or another to the busy-ness that is permeating the world around me. Clients, family, friends, myself – there is so much going on and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. It’s the nature of the holiday season, and the inevitable quality that defines the lead-up to the end of any year. I accept that.

That being said, what I’ve noticed is that there is this strategy that so many employ in an effort to deal with the busy-ness, and this strategy is actually self-defeating. Moreover, it’s a misnomer – it’s not actually possible in the purest sense that’s implied.

What’s the strategy I’m referencing?

Multi-tasking.

The term has an allure and appeal to it, no doubt. I mean, when you’re busy, how cool is it to be able to do more than one thing at a time, in an effort to get it all done? Very cool, right? The problem is that it’s not actually doable.  Your brain, your mind, can actually only focus on one thing at a time and so, by extension, you can in fact only do one thing at a time. As a result, any time you try to multi task, you dilute your energy, you dilute your focus, and you dilute your effectiveness.

So, what’s the solution? Remember to think and focus in terms of ONE. One breath at a time, one task at a time, one step at a time. That’s all that can be done and, indeed, it is the only way to get it all done.

Bottom-line: let go of the notion that you can do it all at the same time. Yes, you can do it all. However, you can only do it all by narrowing your focus. Let go of the need, the desire, to multi-task. Single-task instead, and notice how much more you accomplish.

Woman-Savoring-CoffeeSo, What Do You Need?

Well, this past week has been a super-interesting one for me. Every year, as November marches along and moves quickly into December, things get crazy-busy, life gets hectic and I find myself standing just on the edge of overwhelm.  Many days I give thanks for my ability to start my days with quiet meditation, enjoy a cup or two of herbal tea, and soak in a tub from time to time. These are the things that save my sanity.

Last week, as things ramped up to an almost fever pitch in terms of managing family schedules, I found myself saying – more than once – that I just needed some down time; just a few hours would do, but this is what I needed. I knew it in every fiber of my being.  I articulated this need to several people, who knowingly nodded and expressed their understanding. But the busy-ness continued.

Until the proverbial a-ha moment.

During one of my moments of exasperation, as I heard myself saying (to myself this time) that I just needed a few hours off, a quiet voice asked: so, what are you going to do about it?

Huh?

As I stopped dead in my tracks, I realized a truth. This need that I kept expressing wasn’t getting met, because I wasn’t doing anything to meet it. It was as though I was waiting for someone to give me permission to take some time off, to carve out an afternoon or a morning or a day. I realized that I was looking outside of myself to have my needs met, when it was completely within my power to meet it myself.

Well, wasn’t that an eye-opener.

So, it got me thinking. How often do I acknowledge a need, but look outside of myself to have it met? How often do I expect others to make me something, give me something, do something for me? And what would it take for me to meet my needs on my own?

I will admit that I’m still working with this idea. But what I’m slowly coming to realize is that whenever I’m looking outside of myself for something, I’m abdicating my own power to create what I want. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not denying for a minute that there’s something gratifying and lovely about having my needs met from outside of myself. That being said, however, when I can take care of myself, it’s less likely that I will move into the place of overwhelm and burden.

Can you get your head around that?

Whether it’s a need for a break, a need for acknowledgement, a need for nourishment, a need for comfort, a need for insight – whatever you’re needing, what would it take for you to meet that need yourself?  Something to think about. Because what I’m slowly realizing is that it’s within my power to meet all of my needs. And there’s something pretty empowering about that, in the truest sense of that word.

studionia-welcomeIt’s Time to Move, People!

Fall is upon us and winter is fast approaching. At least it is in my neck of the woods. I can feel it in every fiber of my being. My brain knows it. My body knows it. And the world around me knows it. When this happens – when we shift into this season of cozy hibernation, we instinctively move less and lounge more. There’s something rather primal about it. And, if you’re not careful, this instinctive way of being can get you stuck.

So it’s time to heighten your awareness and avoid the impending rut. It’s time to make time to move!

Yesterday, I had the fabulous Carolyn Martyn from Shine Fitness on my radio show. Carolyn is a personal trainer with a very unique approach to world of fitness. In conversing with her, I gleaned a few insights about fitness and it is these insights that have prompted this article this week.  Because what I know for sure is that the need to move is as much a part of our human experience as the need to rest. The two need to happen in combination. And yet, it’s too easy, particularly as winter approaches, to settle into a stationary rut.

So, here’s what you need to know:

  1. The benefits of movement go way beyond your physical being. Yes, you may well lose inches and body fat; but you’ll also lose stress and mental cobwebs. In other words, you’ll feel the benefits of movement mentally and emotionally as well.
  1. Beneficial movement isn’t limited to the work that you do at the gym, or typically athletic endeavours. Dancing, stair-climbing, simple walking – these all count as activities that get you moving.
  1. You don’t have to carve out long blocks of time to be effective. Working in movement at every opportunity – even if it’s just a 10 minute walk around the block – is far better than sitting at your desk for prolonged periods of time.
  1. Having an accountability partner can go a long way to helping you be successful in this area. Someone who will agree to “move with you” ends up being someone who will ultimately get you moving when you aren’t inclined to –and vise versa.
  1. When in doubt, crank the tunes. In my experience, the presence of music will get you moving, even if only for a few minutes. And ultimately, it’s the cumulative effect of the movement over time that is going to work in your favour.

Bottom-line: yes, you need to make time for stillness in your life. And at the same time, you’ve got to balance this with movement. Physical movement makes you more productive in the long run; moreover, if you’re ever stuck, the simple act of moving naturally gets you unstuck in every way. So go on, get moving. It’ll help you finish out this year and enter the new one with a bang!

Choose-Your-Words-Carefully-How-to-Have-Meaningful-ConversationsHow Many Have You Had Lately?

Boy, I do love coming up with cryptic article titles. I’m not sure how marketing gurus react, but to me they seem somewhat provocative. The intention is to get you curious…and I imagine you want to know what the heck I’m talking about. I mean, what am I referring to when I ask about how many you’ve had? Chocolate cookies? Exercise sessions? Date nights? In some ways, this last one comes the closest. What I’m wondering about is the number of MEANINGFUL conversations that you’re engaging in. Why? Because such conversations are essential to all of your relationships. Let me explain.

We live in a world that is rife with what I call communication blips. There’s a way that we bandy about information like it’s going out of style (and admittedly, some of it may well be, our world is changing so fast). We have lots of quick, superficial, short interactions with those around us. Often we are squeezing in an interaction, a conversations, as we shift between events. Such interactions are good. And, they’re not meaningful enough.

Meaningful conversations are those in which you actually connect with others, move beyond the superficial “hey, how are you?”, be in another’s presence (energetically, if not physically), share and listen. You hear what’s being said, you respond and are responded to. There’s a sense that you are learning about each other, no matter how long you’ve known each other. You feel witnessed. Can you sense how a meaningful conversation differs from a communication exchange? I hope so.

Now the question that may be arising is, why do such conversations matter? Isn’t it enough that we connect on some level, even if it is only superficially? One would think so and yet, my experience tells me otherwise. In my work with clients and in my own life what I have come to realize is that meaningful conversations serve as a foundational element to some degree. Here’s what I mean by this.

Meaningful conversations  build a foundation for difficult conversations – conversations about differences of opinion, about challenges, about frustrations – to happen productively. Without such a foundation, difficult conversations become unnecessarily confrontational. And given the difficult conversations can and do happen in all areas of life – personally, professionally and everything in between – it’s important that you build a foundation upon which these can happen, productively. This foundation is made up of all the MEANINGFUL conversations that you’ve had along the way.

Now, meaningful conversations do not have to be long. They don’t have to be intense. They only have to be had with regularity and with the intent of connecting, witnessing, building. That’s it, that’s all. The challenge that I’m seeing – one of the things that I’m noticing – is that we are starting to place meaningful conversations and difficult conversations into the same category. While difficult conversations are often meaningful ones, when you haven’t made time for meaningful conversations that aren’t difficult, then when difficult conversations do happen, they feel bigger and more emotionally charged than they need to. Does that make sense? If you’re not making time to truly engage with the people in your life, then you’re setting yourself up for more difficult conversations than might actually be necessary. 

Bottom-line: it’s time to start paying attention and investing a wee bit more energy in your conversations. Stop skimming the surface and go for deeper meaning. Really connect with the people in your life so that when the time for a difficult conversation arises, you’ve got a solid foundation of meaning upon which to stand and create. Meaningful conversations are the building blocks of relationships that serve.

Will-the-Real-You-Please-Stand-Up2Would the Real You Please Stand Up!

Authenticity. This is such a buzz-word these days. Everywhere you turn, everywhere you go, you’re being invited, encouraged and challenged to be authentic. The self-help industry as a whole (of which, admittedly, I consider myself a member) would have us believe that authenticity is essential to being in effective relationship with one another. Moreover, there’s a suggestion that inauthentic behavior is a the root of problems of all sorts, whether in a relationship context or not.

Personally, I support the idea that authenticity matters. I think it’s essential to healthy, fulfilled living. I think the best relationships – whether family, friends or collegial – are built upon an authentic foundation. When authenticity is lacking, it’s only a matter of time before problems arise, in my experience.

So here’s the question: what the heck is authenticity? My sense is that many people understand the concept theoretically, but the practical implementation poses problems of all sorts. So let me set the record straight, and clarify the concept for you.

At its core, authenticity is about honesty. Authenticity is about truth, right? The truth that’s required, however, in order to live authentically exists on three different levels. There’s truth that’s spoken, truth of being, and truth that’s expressed in action. When most people think of truth, they stop at the spoken aspect. They give consideration to what they express verbally, and nothing more. In light of this, they inadvertently show up without authenticity.

What you say matters absolutely, when it comes to authentic living and leading. You need to ensure that your spoken words are an accurate reflection of what you’re thinking, what you value and what you need in any given moment. But such spoken accuracy isn’t enough.  Your words have got to be matched by your demeanor and your actions. These three in combination, are what the world at large experiences as authentic – or not. Whenever there’s a disconnect between what you say, what you do, and/or how you be, you’re inauthentic.

So, how do you guard against such inauthentic behavior?

You heighten your sense of self-awareness. You pay attention to your emotional state and your physical demeanor. You notice the actions that you take and stand in the question of how these align with your verbal claims. Anytime you notice a disconnect, you tweak. Tweak what you’re saying, tweak how you’re being, and tweak what you’re doing, in whatever combination necessary to bring these things into alignment.

Admittedly, this requires an investment of time and energy on your part; but it’s time and energy well-spent. The longer you go without investing such time and energy, the greater the likelihood that you’ll be less than authentic and, as a result, find yourself in problematic interactions. That’s how important authenticity is.

As a leader, such authenticity is essential. Why? Because it lays the foundation for whatever your leadership platform is. Any misalignment leads to the potential for cracks to develop in this platform, which results, inevitably, in disgruntled (if not non-existent) followers. And to quote John C. Maxwell, “he who leads but has no followers is simply taking a walk.”

Bottom-line: authenticity matters. In the world of leadership – whether of a corporate, political, non-profit, or simply social nature – it’s essential. In order to be truly authentic, you’ve got to broaden your understanding beyond the scope of mere words, and take stock of your demeanor and actions as well. When words, demeanor and actions are all aligned, then you’re being authentic. And then, you’re in a position to lead most effectively.

Screen-shot-2011-05-20-at-4.49.15-PMAre You Getting Enough?

I know; you have no idea what I’m referring to in this article’s title, do you?  I’m not really trying to be coy, I just couldn’t think of any other way to speak to a learning which I had this week.  As so often happens for me, the actual information wasn’t new.  But the concrete experience was like none I had ever had before.  Let me explain.  Obviously, I’ve had an epiphany of sorts over the last week.  Something that allowed me to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what was missing before, and what I’m slowly but surely getting enough of now.  I know that if you allow yourself the opportunity to get enough of this one thing, you’re life will be easier all around.  Want to know what it is?  It’s unscheduled time.

Think about it.  Take a look at a typical week in your life.  How much of it is “unscheduled time?”  My guess is that there’s not very much “white space” in your calendar, daytimer, blackberry – whatever it is you use to keep yourself organized and your time accounted for.  Between personal appointments, children’s activities, work meetings, projects and tasks you’re probably scheduled to the max. That’s not including time to eat, bathe, sleep and tend to other basic essentials.  Let’s face it; you’re a pretty scheduled person.  I know what that’s like; my schedule can look the same way most weeks.

Last week, however, I had the opportunity to take back some time.  This was possible in part because of a couple of appointment cancellations.  Ordinarily what I would have done in that circumstance is fill the suddenly opened time with other tasks; goodness knows there’s always something to do.  But last week, I chose to let the time and space be open.  I could feel a cold coming on and, given the time that was suddenly available to me, I chose to just be.  No writing, no talking, no reading, no nothing – just being.  Letting my mind wander, I was amazed to experience a degree of grounding like I hadn’t felt in a long time.  In doing this, I confirmed for myself something I’ve known intrinsically for a while:  as human beings, it really does serve us to just “be”. 

I know this can be hard to do, but that’s the point.  You don’t have to “do” anything – just “be” for a while.  It doesn’t have to be for long, it just has to be for a time.  A small amount of time can revitalize you in a big way.  Giving yourself time to go for a mental walk of sorts – which is what I’m really talking about when I say “just be” – fills your life with clarity like nothing else can. 

For me, this is taking the 80/20 rule of time management one step further.  If you’re not familiar with it, the 80/20 rule advises that you schedule 80% of your time, allowing 20% to be unscheduled so that when things take longer than anticipated (which they inevitably will) or when crises arise (which does happen from time to time) you won’t fall behind or become overwhelmed.  My suggestion to you is, in addition to allowing for buffer time in this way, you also allow for “being time” – wide open space in which nothing is scheduled and nothing gets scheduled, which allows for you to just be.

Bottom-line, just like you need sufficient doses of various vitamins to function properly, you also need sufficient amounts of unscheduled time.  This is time for you to just be free – not in front of the TV or cuddled up with a book, but rather time to be free of any and all tasks and agendas, allowing your mind to wander and your brain to slow down a bit.  As a chronic thinker, I know this can be challenging.  And at the same time, what I know for sure is that there’s a reason you’re called a human BEING as opposed to a human DOING – time to BE is far more important to your life than time to DO.  So create some time to BE and watch your life improve.

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Writing provides me with an outlet for sharing my insights on a regular basis. I freelance for magazines and publications as opportunity presents itself. I also channel my thoughts into regular blog posts and monthly articles. Blog posts are visible on my blog page, and an archive of articles from my monthly ezine, LAUNCH –as well as some articles from publications – can be found on the “articles” page of this site.

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