When you think about successful creatives or artists, you would probably conjure the image of weird people prone to flights of fancy, brilliant sure, but often capricious, unstable, or unreliable. You would imagine that they value large swatches of unstructured time and need complete freedom to be creative and do their work. You would probably think they wake up every day at different times to do different things. You would be very wrong.
About 2 years ago, I came across the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. He compiled and highlighted the diverse rituals and routines of famous accomplished artists, scientists and philosophers. From Salvador Dali to Chris Ofili, they all had something in common apart from their great minds and accomplishments. They had their specific routines and rituals.
See, to be productive and successful, especially over a long period of time and consistently, you cannot just rely on inspiration or on the ‘feeling’. The creative muse is notoriously fickle. You have to embrace structure. It is that structure that ultimately frees you to be creative, to explore vast ideas and birth something new.
Like all things in the universe, it’s a delicate dance of opposites.
The creative muse is be balanced and even enhanced by routine. As individuals, doubly so as creatives, we are faced with chaos on a daily basis. There is the noise within – the voices in our head, our anxieties and hopes and fears. And there is the noise without – society, traffic, bosses, clients, the needs and requests from family. There is a lot that can derail your work and path. Routines and rituals become the guards that protect it.
Routines and rituals do two main things. They provide and defend the time needed to do the work, and they provide the right conditions to do good work. They direct the chaos of the day, the chaos of the mind and set them across well-defined paths every day. It is the only way to get any real work consistently done over time and move towards accomplishing your goals and maximizing your potential.
I have been telling people lately, that if you want to embark on a creative project, like doing podcasts, writing a book, or working on a business – you have to bake in the process into your daily life. You have to create a routine for it. Otherwise, it will never get done. What is not scheduled, does not happen.
For instance, I generally write my blog posts on Sunday. It is part of my ritual to prep for the week. It usually follows a set pattern. I sit down at my desk, I meditate for 15 mins, then I journal, mind dumping whatever is going on upstairs, and only then am I clear enough to write something. Afterwards, I plan my week and get into some work.
Of course, many times, for whatever reason, that does not happen. Some Sundays, I’m out with friends or doing something else. But I still have to execute the ritual when I can, on a Monday or Tuesday morning, whenever I do get the chance to get it done. The point is, the ritual facilitates production. It gives me a set time to work and provides the conditions necessary for good creative work.
The idea of ritual shows up everywhere, even in doing the work itself. To be effective at designing and solving problems, I have to use certain patterns. I follow processes, either documented or subconsciously. I dig into the issue at hand first, letting it fill my mind. Then I have to explore ideas and look at incredible work by others to prime my mind. Then I sketch and design and test till I get something. And I need to have the phone off for hours sometimes just to really get that focus and enter the right zone to produce good work. If I disrespect any of these conditions, the work suffers.
Routines and rituals go a long way.
It is how we trust the process.
It is how we get what we want, how we maximize our potential. It is where living intentionally really becomes tangible in your life. By designing your life in line with your goals. Putting in the conditions and systems to make it work. You focus on winning the day-to-day. Because if you win at executing the most important thing on a daily basis, over time the actions compound to deliver you great wins.
Your routine would look very different from mine. We all have what works for us. In Mason’s book, the routines of artists varied wildly. Some woke up nice and early starting work at 9am like Chris Ofili, others like Pablo Picasso could not be bothered before 2pm. The point is, they found a rhythm that worked for them and maximized their creative output.
However you do it, start right and end right.
We all have the same 24 hours, beginning our days at some point, and ending them at another. In the time between waking and sleeping, we have things to do, obligations to fulfil and projects to execute. If we want to crush it. We have to pay attention to how we start and how we end. A good morning routine sets the pace for the day. A good wind-down routine at the end of the day helps us get a good night sleep and start the next day on the right note. With those two things created and applied consistently, we supercharge our lives, our creativity and productivity. A good routine takes care of the important little things – a noisy mind, unclear focus, eating, etc and allows us to focus on actually doing the work.
A week and a half ago, I was in a deep funk, like I mentioned to my email list. For whatever reason, I entered a dark place, feeling unbalanced, feeling doubtful. Until I came across this video, and had two epiphanies – one, I am not my mind, which is a topic for another day, and two, I should get back to some kind of routine. So, the next day, I woke up, I exercised, I meditated, I visualized, I journaled, and went on to have a very productive day. Like magic, the darkness lifted.
Turns out, all I needed was to get back into rhythm. That’s the power of a good routine.
I don’t have anything to say.
And yet, I must blog. I must write and publish something. Because I made the commitment to. And part of the journey towards success is respecting the process, when it is easy and when it is hard. So, I will write.
And because I watched Hassan Minhaj’s Patriot Act yesterday so I’m going to call this ‘a bunch of thoughts’. That’s what this will be about – different ideas that have been lingering lately.
Like I said, I have nothing to say. I just feel quiet. In a world and culture, where we feel the need to fill every empty space with something – words, activity, sound, noise, entertainment, the willingness to stay still and empty and quiet is hard to find.
But it is important. It says something about us, about the phase we are in, and what we must do next. Sometimes there is nothing left to say, but everything else left to do. And once you do things, you will have more things to say.
In the season of quiet, it is good and important to embrace empty space as just as much you cultivate occupied spaces. You have to create a vacuum to invite new things in. Sometimes you just have to be quiet and wait. Wait for the signal, wait to move, wait to strike.
Easier said than done. But doable.
I have nothing to say, because I have everything to do. And it is in the doing that new ideas come up, and new insights develop. New lessons are learned, and a new dimension of expression opens up. Because when you act you learn. You see new things, and you are able to create something new. You are able to develop truly unique and interesting ideas when your theories now intersect with cold hard reality. That sparks up new things.
Afraid to Press Play
There is also fear. The fear of launching. It never goes away; it rises up every time. That moment you are about to ship, and you wonder, will they like it? Will this succeed? You have defeated the Resistance throughout the process, sitting down to work, being faithful, and pushing through. And yet, here, at the door, at the side of the stage waiting to walk through, waiting to be called up, the Resistancerises again to greet you in a last-ditch attempt to stop you.
The fear can be very visceral, but in these times of nervousness and fear, we have to remember that these things are ephemeral. They will not last forever. They come…to pass. But it only passes if you embrace it. It does not pass if you do not go through it and implement it. If you do not experience. The more you delay it, the more eternal it becomes, looming as a specter of guilt and shame, never leaving, always tormenting.
So that’s the thing about fear. Knowing that it won’t last forever, so might as well dive into it and embrace it and enjoy it while it’s here. Because, soon you won’t feel it anymore. This would be your status quo.
Reclaiming who you could have been
A friend suggested I write about this. The idea of salvaging. Of rescuing and restoring everything you have quit or put on hold. Taking hold of your un-lived dreams.
How do you do that?
I think a lot of people go through this. You were on a path and for whatever reason, you quit. You let go. You dropped out, you changed routes. Maybe it wasn’t right for you, maybe you shifted to find what you are truly called for. Sometimes it is needed.
Sometimes though, we let go of the thing we really wanted. Maybe it is the fear. The fear of failure, or even the fear of success. Or maybe it was the process itself, you start working on this thing, studying this thing, training for this thing and you realize that it’s actually harder than you thought it would be. So, you lose motivation and run away.
But now, you are inspired again. You have grown. You see things differently. Well, it is never too late to be what you might have been. You can always jump right back into the fray, and get into it. Maybe it is time for you to reclaim your lost dreams with renewed vigor.
Remember the fear, like everything else in life is impermanent. Embrace it and it will pass. Embrace the process.
Working to Live
In the last quarter of last year, I came across Jason and Caroline Zook’s ‘Working to Live’ and just going through their content challenged the way I think about work. As entrepreneurs or freelancers, it is very easy for your work to own you, to be constantly working and pushing. The proliferation of ‘hustle porn’ also doesn’t help matters. We think we have to be ON all the time, constantly moving, constantly getting things done.
But that doesn’t always work does it. Sometimes we run around frantically for months or years or end and eventually look up and realize we painted ourselves into a corner, or that life has literally passed us by. Do we live to work, or do we work to live? I’m guessing you are trying to live. Let the work you do help you live not take the place of life.
That starts by being clear, strategic and allocating time for what needs to be done. Then you are forced to be effective, not just busy. Being strategic allows you to snap between two modes of activity.
Sure, sometimes you need to be ON, 18-hour days, head down, just pushing and getting things done. But then once you have gotten the right things done, you can pull back and rest, like really rest. Because the main things are taken care of.
That is a sharp contrast from continually being stressed and running around like a headless chicken like we usually do.
Another meditation on the process and experience of getting things done.
The last stretch of any serious project is usually the most grueling part of the whole ordeal. It is almost like birthing. The bulk of it has a lot of work sure – conceptualizing, designing and building, but that last bit, getting it across the finishing line, is super intense.
That’s when emotions are at an all-time high. You are tired from all the work so far. At this point, you doubt the validity of the entire project. On one hand, you wonder if you have wasted all your time and effort to get here. On the other, you just want to finish the damn thing and get it out your sight.
But if in the midst of all that strain and pressure, you are still here, still in the game, then you know you have yourself a winner. You love what you do, so much so that you are willing to embrace a high level of suffering and anguish just to get it done.
There is a key thing about getting things done that is important to note. This is especially true if you are working strategically. There is a lag time between effort and results. In a world, where we expect everything with microwave immediacy, this can be jarring. We expect everything fast; the lag violates that expectation.
If you are building something important, especially if you are still in the early-ish stages, there is a lag time that you have to be patient with. You need to be patient and disciplined.
If you are working with intention, you have identified a ginormous goal, something you are working towards. You have also looked at the short term and figured out what the next most important thing to do is.
So, you are working on it and pushing. Especially if it is product development – writing a book, creating a course, designing clothing, designing a business, creating a website, it’s a lot of work upfront. And while you are making the thing, you are getting no feedback from the market place beyond whatever testing you are doing. There is no validation, no emotional boost from likes on Instagram. It is just pure grunt work.
It takes discipline to keep pushing and working on it for weeks, months, even years without tangible results. It takes discipline to push and get the important things done, knowing that you might only see the impact in a year or in the next 5. But that is the core of true strategic intent and level-headed execution. Doing things now that will pay off much later.
The lag is also a call to be clear-headed and practice accurate attribution. Know where your results are coming from.
Where you are right now is as a result of the choices and actions you took years ago. From the habits to the results in your life, the place you live, the job you have, and the money you make. To move yourself to a new place, you have to invest in new actions and habits now. But for the change to be visible, it will take time and you have to be prepared for that.
It is in the lag that people lose heart and quit. In the lag all you have is the work, and your dream. You look around and people seem to be moving on without you. While you toil and labor away in obscurity to create your vision. Seth Godin also refers to it as the dip – the chasm between the start and finish of a project, the valley that separates those serious about achieving the goal, and those who are mildly interested.
The lag does not mean you are failing. The lag means your reality is still catching up with all the changes and actions you are making. You have to stay strong, you have to stay the course and keep pushing. But how do you know the difference between lag and actual failure? Maybe the fact that nothing is happening really means that your project, vehicle, business is not adequate to get you where you want to go.
You don’t. It is a tricky thing to figure out, but there are ways to mitigate the risk.
Because there is a lag time from effort to results, there is something I like to do in designing the projects I work on. When I take on a project, I set intentions for both the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario. I design it so that if it works out really well, the potential upside is very high. Which is why exercising leverage by working on important projects is key. A successful one can literally change your life. But I always like to bake in success into the failure scenario too. Even if this project fails, I have most likely used it also to gain new skills, new knowledge, new network, new insight.
I have been spending the past few months working on the next level of my business, and I have spent time designing the website, designing the way the company functions and learning so many new things about customer research, product development, communications, hiring, business plans, investments, and so on. It has been a long road so far, and an even longer road ahead. But here’s the thing about this exercise. Even if I launched everything the way I have been planning and it fails epically, I would have still gained a lot from the process. I would have learned more about business than I would have otherwise.
But if I succeed, I win big. All the planning and set up lays the foundation for explosive and exponential results. Because once the lag has passed and the results start coming in. They come in fast!
This is why we focus on the process. Because that is what this is. A process. Getting successful is a process, staying successful is a process. The process is all we have, not the results. So, we mind the lag. We recognize it, but we stay focused on the day-to-day, on creating the plan, executing the plan, recording the results, adjusting the plan, executing again, reviewing the results, ad infinitum, until we get what we want, maximize our potential, or run out of time.
We don’t know how long this will take. We don’t care. All we care about is handling today’s task. This is a lifestyle now, this is just how we do. And it is what we will do, till we are past the lag and the harvest comes.
This post was inspired by Sam Oven’s video on Cause and Effect Timeframes: Why today’s results came from last year’s work. Well worth the watch.
For the past few weeks, I have been exploring the concept of potential, and how to maximize it. Each week, I have highlighted an idea that would help anyone do more and become more, tapping into what they are truly capable of. Things like demanding more of yourself, keeping an internal locus of control and taking full responsibility as well as minimizing inefficient actions and going straight towards your objectives.
These ideas and many more I’ve written about when applied combine to make an individual who is relentlessly pursuing his goals and maximizing his potential.
There is another concept that has been bubbling up at the back of my mind for months now. It first really hit me like a ton of bricks one night in Uyo as I watched this video. And the question Patrick Bet David asked that really stuck with me was, ‘What is your capacity with your network. Do you really take advantage of your network?’ The answer for me was definitely not. It got my mind racing about how many resources I have that I underutilize.
Coupled with the idea of exponential growth and results that I have been pondering for weeks now, I have awoken to the fact that to reach your full potential, to maximize your capacity and experience exponential growth and returns in your life, you have to understand and embrace the concept of leverage.
What is leverage?
The word evokes images of a lever. The simple tool you use to open hard-to-open things by applying force on one end which multiplies in output on the other end giving you more bang for your buck. That is the essence of leverage – being able to take action that gives disproportionately large results.
It is how successful people accomplish more in a day than most people do in a week. It is why some people progress much faster than others. It is energy saving, it can shave off a lot of time from your process. Like compound interest, leverage is an incredibly powerful tool.
If you want unusual results, fast growth and progress, leverage is the way to go. And yet it is something we tend to ignore more often than not. But it is all around us if we care to look. Leverage is how some people get the jobs of their dreams through the relationships they have built. Leverage is how you are able to find information fast and write that paper you left for the last minute using the internet. Anytime you use a time saving device or tool, you are exercising leverage.
When you choose to work in a field that aligns with your natural talents and inclinations, you are exercising leverage. Because it is easier and more powerful to do work that makes use of your talents than it is to do work you have to slog through.
Leverage simply asks, how can I use the relationships, tools and resources at my disposal in the best possible way? Not just in the best possible way, but how can I use things to give exponentially high results.
And when you are able to use the tools and resources you have to their full capacity, you will outstrip your competition very quickly and achieve shocking results.
To leverage is to accomplish more with less effort. To increase gains by using force multipliers.
So why don’t we apply leverage in our lives?
I think it boils down, like most things to limiting beliefs and mindsets. Usually, we have a perspective problem. We don’t even recognize what we have. We are so used to the things in our lives, it is easy to take them for granted and not see just how useful they can be. We live so passively; life-changing opportunities pass us by unnoticed.
We also fall into the trap of trying to do everything by ourselves. This is one I am personally too familiar with. There is a place for self-reliance and being able to get things done. There is a lot one can accomplish by himself, and faster too. But no man is an island, we all have limitations. If you want to break past those ceilings into exponential territory, then you have to connect and tap into network. We have to share the load, give generously and allow other people to help or join our journey.
A third reason is that we just don’t know enough. We don’t have a clear picture of the landscape and what is out there. We don’t actively search for opportunities, we are content with a little slice of the world and we don’t push further than that. We don’t take risk. We just do as we are told and walk the paths that were given to us. We are blind to the fact that life by its nature is incredibly creative, and we often don’t tap into and bring a fraction of that level of creativity to the act of living.
How can we apply leverage?
The first step is to take stock. Look carefully around your life and ask yourself. What do I have going on? What am I good at? What have I built? What am I building? What do I want to accomplish? What are my wildest dreams and goals? What resources do I have? Who do I know? Who is in my network? Who are my friends? Who are my colleagues? Who are my customers? How can I solve their problems? How can they help me?
Over time you will get so good at this, to the point where you will be able to spot opportunities and resources that come disguised as something else. When you know what you have, you are able to judge if you are tapping into its full capacity or potential. Ask yourself, can any of these things I have at my disposal help me get to where I’m going and what I want?
If you have a computer, a smartphone or access to the internet, you already have more leverage and capacity than you know. The chance to learn, to grow, to connect, to create is literally at your fingertips. If there are books around that you haven’t read, that is untapped power and knowledge just lying there waiting. Within those unopened pages lie the ideas that could change your life forever.
If all you have is free time, with no job, nothing to do, that is an incredible resource that could be leveraged in exploring something that is interesting to you. You could spend it developing your skills or reaching out to people.
Ah yes, people. One of the biggest points of leverage you could ask for.
Who do you know? Who has had an impact on your life? Who has what you need? Who can help you get to where you want to be? Who has a vested interest in you and your success? Who are you useful to? Who do you provide value to? The people around you and in your network hold the keys to the things that you want. We are designed to be social creatures and accomplish more through cooperation than we could alone. Lean into that. Embrace your social destiny, take the initiative, grow and leverage your networks.
Leverage is an integral part of strategy – the art form of moving from point A to point B. Setting up goals and taking stock of the resources at hand to getting there. Practicing leverage is how we make the most of what we have, playing the hell out of the cards we were dealt.
We apply leverage when we take the right actions consistently, making our moves stack on each other. We parlay the results of one action into the next action deliberately. We apply leverage when we work on the most important things. Which is yet another key opportunity for exponential results – working on important things, things that can make a difference, and impact as many lives as possible.
In absorbing and obeying these principles, we tap into a massive power. The power to multiply ourselves and our efforts, to get more done faster than ever before. In doing so, we come that much closer to maximizing our potential and becoming all that we can be.
There is a fundamental disposition that will affect if you win or lose, and the level of success you would reach. It is how you think about control.
Your level of happiness is directly linked to how much autonomy, control or choice you have in your life. Generally speaking, the more autonomy you have, the higher your level of wellbeing. It is a key driver in job satisfaction, one that Cal Newport highlights in his book ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’. To feel fulfilled in your career, you have to have a say in what you do and how you do it.
That is why entrepreneurship is attractive to some of us. We are control freaks. As tough as the journey is, the thrill is in going for your dream and charting your course. For better or worse, I have always thought the safest hands for my destiny are still mine. Because I can control where I am going and what I am going to do.
So, control is necessary for a better life, and is something we all crave. The pursuit of self-development or any kind of education or growth is a pursuit of control, over self, over our circumstances, over our results. We do things to get other things. Sure, you can’t control everything, and you shouldn’t try to. But you should exercise control over the few things you can.
In psychology, there is the concept of locus of control, which is the extent to which a person feels they have control over the events in their lives. It is split into two.
Those with an external locus of control believe that things are outside their control. The deciding factor on the things that happen to them lie in things external to them – their environment, some authority figure, some circumstance. They are victims. They spend time complaining, hapless and helpless to change, waiting for someone else to come and fix it.
The flip side of that coin is the internal locus of control. These people feel like the things that happen to them are within their control. If not what happens, then at the very least, their interpretation or response to it. They are in control. If they don’t like something, they can change it. If they hate their job, they can leave. If they don’t like the city they live in, they can move. If they don’t like the results they have been getting, they can change their actions.
Sure, there are a lot of things that are not in our control. At least not directly. But there is a lot that is. If we are to reach our potential, to push and strive to be more, to be more capable, more successful, we have to take more control.
And the truth is, you have more control than you think.
You have problems, you have obstacles, but there is always a way, always something that can be done. No matter how small. Once you make the decision that you have some control, the mind starts to work and churn out solutions. It is the mindset of the successful person. To take charge, and know that no matter what comes, good or bad, there is always a way to deal with it. If you are stuck in a seemingly impossible situation, you start from anywhere. You simply solve the first problem you can, and then the next, and then the next, and eventually you are on the other side.
In failure, the choice on how to react is in your control. Let the sting hit you, feel the pain, and when it has run its course, pick yourself up and continue. Even the huge things in our lives that seem out of our control – the leaders we have, the government we live under, the economy, things can change if enough of us band together to exercise our locus of control.
You have to take a hard look at the things in your life and decide, is this thing really an obstacle, or am I using it as an excuse? Dealing with it might be difficult, but it is probably not impossible. You don’t have money, okay, learn to make some. Learn a skill and freelance, look for a job, sell something you don’t use any more. Do something about it. Anything. Just take control.
You want to be fit but can’t go to the gym? Exercise at home. You want your business to grow? Set up better processes and go knock door to door selling your products and services. You want to do well in school? Study better. You have more control than you think. The beginning of your solution is a google search away.
You can’t take on a heavy load, without taking on more control. When you take responsibility, you are saying that it is on you. The things you want, the heights you want to climb, the things you want to accomplish. It is all on you. You truly have to accept that and do what is necessary.
You can max out your potential. But it starts with taking control.
So, we’ve been exploring ‘How to Maximize your Potential’ over the past couple of posts. And every week, I try to share an idea or principle that could help us in the quest to maximize our potential.
So far, we have looked at things that hinder us from reaching our potential – belief, laziness, comparison. We have also looked at the ego, and how it blocks us from seeing clearly. We also explored the need for change – the necessity of doing new things to get new results.
Now we examine the concept of the ‘heavy load’. If you want to grow, evolve, and reach your potential, you have to take on a heavy load – carry your cross so to speak. The heavy load is responsibility. It is also a mark of maturity and the keen difference between a child and an adult – the level of responsibility you are willing to accept. It has nothing to do with age, everything to do with disposition and mentality.
Most people want a life of ease. A life where everything they want comes to them effortlessly. But life works in paradoxes. If you want ease, if you want freedom, you have to pay for it in blood and sweat. You cannot become great if you do not meet great resistance.
Without a heavy load, without a more-than-usual demand on our time, energy, and creativity, our talents and abilities are left untapped. In the same way our muscles atrophy from a lack of use, our potential wastes away when it is not confronted by demand. You don’t reach your potential by shrinking away from discomfort, you reach it by leaning into and embracing it. By letting it work on you, to make you a stronger, wiser, more empathetic and more capable human being.
Many people experience this heavy load in the form of family – a new spouse, or the birth of their kids. The onloading of a new unit, of new children needing to be clothed and fed has the power to spark off a powerful response. Now you have a deeply rooted why. A why that doesn’t care about your tiredness, or sadness, or stress. They need to be taken care of no matter what. For most people, this new load sparks a level of action and thinking that produces massive results. For others, they buckle under the weight of responsibility and expectation and run away. Or they begrudgingly take on the load and grow sour, more resigned to their fate every day.
The heavy load doesn’t have to be a new baby or a new family. There are many ways to take on a heavy load. It simply means taking on more responsibility, tackling a much bigger goal than you are comfortable with, or holding yourself to a much higher standard. Look at what you want to stretch yourself in, whatever area of life you want to expand, to do so, you have to take up much more.
Be careful though. The weight of the load has to be balanced against the level of ability you have now. Things do overwhelm people, and you don’t want to crush and break yourself right at the start of your journey. Assess where you are now, and then take on a load that forces you to operate at the edges of your ability.
Like I mentioned in my book “How to Live Intentionally”, you have to set a ginormous goal. A massive goal forces you to think differently, creatively and act boldly in the hope of getting close to achieving it. You can probably figure out getting to the next step from where you are, but to 10X, 20X, 100X your results and your life, you have to break open your thinking. The heavy load of a ginormous goal forces breakthroughs in your thinking.
Hold yourself to a higher standard. Even if you don’t take on a bigger goal, you can apply this principle in your routines and daily life. You can continue doing the same things but at higher frequency or intensity. You force a heavy load on to yourself until you adapt and grow.
It’s like going to the gym. You get in there for the first time scrawny or out of shape, wheezing after a few steps on the treadmill or reps on the bench press. But you take on a load. It might not be so heavy at first, but it is enough to cause you to strain, and you wrestle with that. A few weeks after, you take on a heavier load, because you are stronger, more conditioned, more adapted to the old level of load. On and on it goes, progressing to higher levels of strength until you are maxing out your potential, experiencing what you are truly capable of.
Same in learning, same in learning. To go past your plateaus, to new heights of excellent performance, you have to be willing to do more and take on more. Train more, work harder, practice more deliberately.
It’s obviously not a nice or easy thing to do. But you don’t win if you don’t learn how to suffer. Taking on a heavy load is a willing acceptance of suffering for a higher purpose. Knowing that in suffering, in strain and heavy demand, we are forged and made stronger and more capable of attaining greater heights.
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