The Importance of Purpose

The Importance of Purpose

Guest writer Christopher Kiely has written today’s blog post, The Importance of Purpose, as a continuation of his thoughts on meaning and purpose in the workplace.

As we discussed previously, one of the main contributors to the malaise about work and the lack of desire of a quarter of workers ages 20-34 to participate in the workforce was the lack of meaning and purpose found in the modern workforce. People were looking for “what it all means”. Members of the younger generations have seen their parents dedicate themselves to the 9-5, only to end up on the endless treadmill of unfulfilling work for narcissistic bosses assigned to them by uncaring and demanding companies. Running in place for decades for the opportunity to retire in the twilight of their life. And those are the lucky ones. Many others have seen their parents wind up laid-off, cast aside and dismissed after dedicating years and even decades to the treadmill. 

Since writing that initial blog on this subject we have seen the mass layoffs in tech with the depressingly informative website “Layoffs.fyi” ¹ putting the numbers so far this year at over 100,000. That is on top of the 159,846 they tracked in 2022. These are the jobs the younger generations were told are the “jobs of the future”. Well, the future is now and apparently there is way too many of them. That is unlikely to provide anyone with much sense of purpose.

On a recent trip back from Nevada I took an Uber home from the airport. My driver was a millennial finishing up their Uber shift and we got to talking about mining (I was coming back from a mine), electric cars (we were in a Tesla), professions, and life. Turns out the Uber gig was only one of three jobs or “hustles”, as the kids say, all part of the “grind culture”. The Uber job paid for the Tesla, insurance and charging costs, plus some. The second hustle was real estate. They were going to do some “staging of a condo” for that hustle after the Uber gig, it was already 1AM. The third hustle was coaching, “legit sports coaching, not the life-coaching variety”. I have known a few of those… they often require the most life-coaching. But hey a good way to learn is to teach or coach. So, fake it until you make it, I guess. But I digress.

The millennial-hustler and I spoke about the layoffs in tech, he just chuckled unsympathetically. The notion of relying on that traditional relationship with a company seemed completely foreign and foolish to them. Keep in mind, they still depend on corporations and institutions for their hustles. There is no Uber-driver without Uber. Only the relationship has changed. My driver was the exact type of “worker” corporations used to be on the hunt for: intelligent, confident, charismatic, driven, self-motivated, multi-tasker, willing to work long hours, etc… and for years our schools cranked out willing workers conditioned to seek approval from institutions, including corporations. But the new hustler of the grind culture has no time for those systems of control and authority when there are apparent by-passes everywhere.

Along the way that whole system has worn out and broken down, call it a lack of foresight, poor planning or malicious neglect, it really doesn’t matter. I’m not here to pick sides and theories. But I will view with suspicion and/or slight pity anyone that does not recognize the current state of our institutions. From education, to healthcare, to government itself, all have been shown to be questionable in their authority of late. This does not go unnoticed by our youth. I know, I have a few in the house. They trust in very little and have “faith” in even less, including our venerated institutions. They believe more in their phone than they do in much else. The opportunity technology provides youth is underestimated and under-appreciated by older generations. They will have no time for our institutional systems of control and authority. Not the smart ones anyway. The emperor has no clothes.

But, replacing a treadmill with a grind does not sound like much of a step-up, and certainly not a step-off. I worry that in pursuit of “what it all means” in a world of deep cynicism there is a risk of repeating the same old mistakes while making all new ones. The lesson seems to have been learned that corporations, jobs, the 9-to-5, do not provide a life of purpose. That is good, because in and of themselves, they don’t. But as I said, there is still no need for an Uber-driver without Uber. Only the nature of the relationship has changed. While the young hustling-grinder sees freedom and opportunity to work as they please. The corporation has a workforce it views as contract and replaceable, the backdrop of dystopian sci-fi. Some will say it has always been that way and the notion of loyalty to employees was just a façade. I would hesitate to disagree but would argue the façade kept some people dedicated and loyal. Removing it all together is certain to affect such things negatively and the façade crumbling to the ground in their lifetimes as they are due to continue the charade, is bound to impact a generation.

We have a generation of youth that seem to be trading a treadmill for a grind combined with a new type of corporate disregard for people that provides people with little reason to want to work for many corporations, beyond hand-to-mouth necessity. All at a time when our institutions seem strained by expected everyday use. I understand the younger generations being disillusioned by it all. I was disillusioned when I was their age, I still am frankly. What disillusioned me then has not become any better. Now whether all this hustling and grinding leads anywhere different than the treadmill of old remains to be seen. My driver certainly seemed to be focused on the ever-arriving future, a state of being we continue to mistake for purpose and tends to lead us to look back with regret. I have the feeling both the corporations failing to harness passion and provide any sense of purpose and the young generation choosing to use passion to grind for purpose, are both failing one another.

Corporations that are serious about the quality of life they provide their employees (really serious, not sort-of-serious in a CSR, good-PR type of way), need to be honest with themselves about what passions and purpose employees have the opportunity to find in their companies. Are there any? Maybe there really is not. What passions and purpose are some jobs capable of providing? 

Why do employees want to come to work? If most companies are honest with themselves, they really haven’t thought about it much more than “you should be happy you have a job here” and “we pay you” levels of thought. “Good” companies add occasional pizza, barbecues and donuts, maybe a “family atmosphere” type pitch. Top tier companies provide daily fruit and granola bars, rock climbing walls, and mental health programs (hmm… sort of like they know).

If the reality is, most people work for money and little other “passion or purpose” and on the flipside most companies have no real passion or purpose to provide and will ditch you and your job ASAP in order to stay afloat or satisfy investors, then maybe it is time we are all simply honest about that? I am certainly not one to argue with the frank reality of things. 

A company that still wants the top hustling-grinders of every generation, will need to develop a new way of relating to and renumerating their employees. Hierarchies are overrated, yearly reviews are lazy, mandated hours for many jobs are unnecessary, quit wasting time training unqualified managers how to manage themselves around those they manage, (i.e., leadership training). Leadership is learned in grade school and most schools don’t teach it anymore. Besides, most workers do not need leaders, they need mentors and cooperative peers. Corporate structures need to be re-examined, or corporations will struggle to attract the brightest and best of the younger generations.

A company with passions and purpose to provide, should understand how to recognize, provide and cultivate it. Otherwise, they should encourage and allow employees the freedom to find those things elsewhere in their lives while they support the pursuit. As for the young generation hustling for the grind and grinding for the hustle, don’t mistake constant work and the endless pursuit of future things to be purpose. The treadmill itself wasn’t the trap for the older generations, it was not being happy on the treadmill while thinking it would lead somewhere better. No one can tell anyone what their life’s passions and purpose are, or even provide it to them, but I do know it is found in the now, not in the future.

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The Year That Was

The Year That Was

Guest writer Christopher Kiely takes on the important task of the review of 2022 with his blog post: “The Year That Was.”

I was asked to write a “year in review” type reflection piece for the end of the year. As you can tell it is now past the end of 2022 and no such piece was produced. Instead, I pondered and wondered and debated and did all the usual writer’s block prolonging techniques that I have perfected over the years. If there was a market for such knowledge, I could write a book! 

The problem is, I take this lesson to heart, elucidated by many but perhaps most succinctly by Buddha:

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

2022 was a challenging year for me and many of my friends and acquaintances, and unfortunately for many people I know 2023 is continuing to provide challenges even in its nascent state. Sitting around pondering the past and predicting the future are intrinsically intwined human behaviours and this time of year when our calendar flip urges us to reflect and consider past and future there is no shortage of such behaviour. There is also no shortage of depression and anxiety surrounding this time of year. 

As Lao Tzu pointed out:

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

That is some of our oldest written human wisdom right there, often repeated throughout millennia. Yet we persist in our mind-wanderings into fictional futures and misrepresented pasts, ignoring the reality of the present for the dream images of the past or the imaginative dilemmas of invented futures. We have become consumed with such things in our culture. Tearing down symbols of our past while making plans and predictions about our future based on ill-conceived computational models. We spend remarkably little time in the present. Perhaps if we did, we would solve our more “present problems” such as homelessness and poverty rather than trying to right past injustices (a fool’s errand) or get to Mars in an EV spaceship (a fool’s goal).

Time is a glittering light for most of us. A shiny beacon we can hardly take our eyes off or shift our mind from. It is all around us, on our phones, on our wrists, on our walls, glowing from billboards and signalled at quarter hours by bells and cuckoos. Yet we don’t even really know what it is. We can explain it chronologically, “time is the continued sequence of existence… blahblahblah”. But where does it go when we sleep, when we no longer perceive it and its best-friend space? It becomes an illusion. 

As my best-friend I never met Alan Watts points out:

“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between a causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality.”

“Out of touch with reality” is how more and more of us are beginning to see the world we live in. At least those of us that have broken away from the institutional propaganda we have been conditioned to accept as our past, present and future. These are the people I write for. Those of us that have deeply felt the absurdity of it all. This is not something you can explain or convince someone of, much like faith, proselytizing to the nonbelievers is typically futile and it requires the same “knowing as a feeling” as opposed to rational thinking, in a world where rational thought is governed by that which you perceive as part and parcel of the absurdity.

So, I don’t spend too much time recalling the past or gazing toward an uncertain future, a terrible person to ask to write a “year in review” piece. But not the worst person to provide some trite rehashed “New Year’s Wisdom” you can discard with your new gym membership in a few months? Perhaps. We’re going to give ’er a go regardless.

Living purely in the moment is a nice notion, suitable for monks and bong-smoking couch dwellers. One can disappear into such existence if one chooses a devoutly ascetic life. Most of us are not conditioned to such a lifestyle however and, illusion or not, must actively participate in time. Appointments are made, meetings scheduled, future KPIs, goals and objectives are set. We are flooded with past data, asked to recall and recollect, urged to review past earnings and performance. It is easy to lose that “infinitesimal hairline” of reality when one actively participates in the absurdity. But actively participate we should and often must! 

Where then do we find the time for the present, for the moment, for the now?  Remember in school when you were told not to daydream? They lied to you. 

As our good friend Albert Camus counters:

“Imagination offers people consolation for what they cannot be and humor for what they actually are.”

Imagination allows us to escape Lao Tzu’s “anxiety” and “depression” of time. It places us in the creative now and, contrary again to what we have been taught, creativity requires no great technique beyond the ability to daydream. The institutional ideas and standards for creativity are housed in systems and techniques (music, photography, oil painting, sculpture, etc.…) that one must train and develop. To connect to the present moment, many people and organizations preach the need for meditation or “mindfulness” never confessing the difficulty or even discord some may find in the practice, especially initially. But the pay off for creativity needs no marble statue or voluminous published works, one can be the crafter of epic works in their mind, the benefit of the imagination, of the exercising of creativity is the same, regardless of tactile outcomes. And connecting to the present moment does not require the quiet undisturbed still-mindedness of a Zen master. 

The mind can be allowed to wander, to question and create on its own, the need to silence it is overstated. Discovering the mind is just like your lungs, and one can actively think as they actively breath or leave both the breathing and thinking to natural impulses we don’t directly control, or understand, is the real secret to “mindfulness”. By understanding your thinking is not you and letting it flow rather than trying to cling to thoughts, one can develop a contemplative imaginative creativity that has no technique beyond the manifestations of one’s own mind and use that to manifest profound change in their lives. Getting lost in imagination, creating in your mind the things you want to see, hear, do, be; whether they are works that have associated technique or not, (this is your imagination after all and no systems or techniques are required), is a powerful place to be. In that place, a place all of us knew the directions to when we were young, lies the current moment, and as close as we get to “reality”. Love and peace are only found in this moment, there is no past or future love and peace that is real, only the love and peace of the “now” is felt. This is why they condition imagination out of us and attempt to place it behind a wall of institutionally approved techniques.

This year I hope you are all able to shift your focus and avoid the depression of misremembered pasts and anxiety of speculative futures to find that “infinitesimal hairline” and spend some time there each day, whether in mindfulness or imagination. The more time you spend there, and one of the reasons you were encouraged not to, the more likely you are to find that other “knowing as a feeling” that lingers around in the inner quiet creative moments of the here and now, what Charles Bukowski knew and felt when writing The Laughing Heart, and what I will share as my “rehashed wisdom” and wish for you in this New Year:

The Laughing Heart

 

your life is your life

don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.

be on the watch.

there are ways out.

there is a light somewhere.

it may not be much light but

it beats the darkness.

be on the watch.

the gods will offer you chances.

know them.

take them.

you can’t beat death but

you can beat death in life, sometimes.

and the more often you learn to do it,

the more light there will be.

your life is your life.

know it while you have it.

you are marvelous

the gods wait to delight

in you.

 

Charles Bukowski – The Laughing Heart

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Quiet Quitting – the Great Resignation

Quiet Quitting – the Great Resignation

Tonight, guest writer Christopher Kiely tackles the conversation we have all heard lately: “Quiet Quitting – the Great Resignation.”

We have likely all seen the headlines mentioning “Quiet Quitting” and “The Great Resignation”. These sorts of headlines have become quite common post-pandemic. I usually try to pay as little attention to headlines as I can. They can be a hyperbolic reframing of previously existing but ignored trends. We used to just call “Quiet Quitting” “Phoning it in”. Nothing new there. A simple web search of the terms shows they seemed to emerge in news headlines beginning with “Great Resignation” around the spring of 2021 and “Quiet Quitting” a little over a year later. Both the terms have legs, with that same web search resulting in several hundred news articles for each in the past 24 hours alone.

“Quiet Quitting” grew out of some TikTok trend earlier this year and now shares space on Wikipedia’s “Work-to-Rule” page¹. Seems like an attempt to apply some sort of rebel ethics to hating one’s job but needing it, which again, is nothing new.

The “Great Resignation” was coined by Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University. In a Bloomberg article² by Arianne Cohen from May 2021, Professor Klotz is quoted stating:

“’The great resignation is coming,’ says Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University who’s studied the exits of hundreds of workers. ‘When there’s uncertainty, people tend to stay put, so there are pent-up resignations that didn’t happen over the past year.’ The numbers are multiplied, he says, by the many pandemic-related epiphanies—about family time, remote work, commuting, passion projects, life and death, and what it all means—that can make people turn their back on the 9-to-5 office grind. 

Sure enough, since that article the headlines have been rife with proclamations of “The Great Resignation”. This could all be self-fulfilling-prophecy. Wouldn’t be the first time the media glommed on to a pithy term and ran with it, essentially creating the news it was meant to report. But anecdotally, I have seen friends and acquaintances experience those “epiphanies” over the course of the past 3 years, I have even experienced some of them myself. Unlike the news headlines I wouldn’t just wrap it all up as some societal trend affecting the HR operations of our beloved corporations. The “Great Resignation” is a symptom of the system. 

It has always happened to many of us at some point and it is well-documented in our society as either the “Midlife” or some sort of existential crisis. As Albert Camus, surmised in The Myth of Sisyphus³:

“It happens that the stage sets collapse. Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm – this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the “why” arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement.”

Ah yes, the “what it all means” and the “why” of it all. It used to be you had to get to Willy Loman’s age before you started questioning such things and regretting life’s decisions. Not so much anymore. Seems more of us are getting there much sooner than we did in Willy’s Day. With many young people not even wanting to participate. A Time magazine article by Raisa Bruner from October 2021, puts the numbers at a quarter of workers ages 20-34 not wanting to participate in the workforce.

“The numbers are even more notable for young workers: in September, nearly a quarter of workers ages 20 to 34 were not considered part of the U.S. workforce—some 14 million Americans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, who were neither working nor looking for work.”

“Neither working nor looking”, not for traditional work anyway. Perhaps working toward and looking for something more profound than the institutional 9-to-5? We have witnessed profound failures of our institutions over the past 3 years. Regardless of what side of any of the currently brewing cultural and societal debates one is on, the inability of our institutions from government to educational, from healthcare to law enforcement to deal with these issues without contributing to the division, rhetoric and spite has been deplorable. Our institutions have been tested and found wanting. 

The “Spiritual Entertainer” Alan Watts once said, “Institutions are run for the benefit of the staff” and the past 3 years have proven him correct. Resulting in a culture where we are conditioned from birth to seek guidance and approval from institutions, but many of us no longer trust those institutions. This isn’t an easy fix; this is a profound societal rift. One that is manifesting itself in the “Great Resignation” and it is a resignation from more than work. It is a resignation from a way of organizing our time, our priorities, our lives and ultimately our society.

In our modern western capitalist civilization, corporations are as much institutions as any other, perhaps the most honest institutions since they don’t claim to be run for anyone’s betterment than the shareholders. Well, okay some claim it, but no one really believes them. They are also one of the only institutions regular people still feel they have some control and influence over. You can’t fight city hall, but you can throw a chair through a Starbucks window, shame Nike on Twitter. If the smartest of the young generation decide to use their labor as a protest tool by withholding their talents from those corporations, that surely won’t be good for those corporations or our current society.

Once someone has an “epiphany” about the meaning of something, they aren’t likely to change their minds any time soon. Epiphanies about “…family time… passion projects, life and death, and what it all means…” are some of the biggest epiphanies a person can have. If a quarter of the workforce from ages 20-34 has already had those epiphanies corporations are going to have to make some fundamental changes to attract them back.

The days of offering free coffee and granola bars with access to game rooms and rock-climbing walls probably isn’t going to cut it anymore. In The Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus discusses the concept of absurdity and states:

“…the magnitude of the absurdity will be in direct ratio to the distance between the two terms of my comparison.” 

The terms of comparison in the case we are discussing are the life we have been told working a 9-to-5 for a living will earn us and the reality of the life we lead pursuing that path. For many of us it seems the level of absurdity is high and the decision to stop doing the absurd has been made. How do corporations and institutions of today regain the trust of the “Great Resigners” and the disillusioned youth and convince them the path is worth their while?

Perhaps Albert can provide a clue when “In The Myth of Sisyphus” he declares:

“Thus, I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion.”

The “Great Resigners” and the youth avoiding work have already had their revolt by removing their labor from the workforce. Now it is up to the corporations that want to lure them back to fuel their freedom and passion. The corporations that do will gain access to some of the best and brightest, the ones that figured out the absurdity of it all and had the guts to call them on it.

In our next articles we’ll discuss ways corporations can go about doing that.

 

  1. Work-to-rule – Wikipedia
  2. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-10/quit-your-job-how-to-resign-after-covid-pandemic?leadSource=uverify%20wall
  3. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/91950.The_Myth_of_Sisyphus
  4. https://time.com/6111245/young-workers-quitting/
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Work Sucks. But, Why?

Work Sucks. But, Why?

Our new guest writer, Christopher Kiely, is taking us straight into the vernacular with “Work Sucks. But, Why?” Christopher Kiely has over 30 years experience in the transportation and heavy equipment maintenance industries with most of those years spent training technicians and maintenance practitioners. He has written for various online outlets in the past and after some time away from writing has returned to share his thoughts on equipment maintenance, training and employee development. Currently self-employed and loving it, he spends most of his worktime travelling the world supporting the mining industry and building relationships with his fellow maintenance professionals.

We have all heard the cliché, “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life”, similar quotes have been attributed to everyone from Confucius and Mark Twain to Tony Robins and Oprah Winfrey. All these people seem to have a different definition of work than I do. Perhaps as a mechanic, mine is more based in the mechanical principal that energy is the capacity to do work and not the notion of work being some sort of automatic drudgery. If I want to accomplish things I enjoy: make a tasty meal, write a song, fix something that is broken, I need to do work. That isn’t a bad thing. In those cases, work provides a sense of accomplishment.

Yet the notion that “work sucks” persists, despite what I may contend. So why is that? Why do so many people view something that can provide a sense of accomplishment as mere drudgery? The answer is perhaps right in the question. There is no sense of accomplishment. 

Not every job is one of achieving things. A mechanic or welder or craftsperson sees the fruit of their labour, what their work produces, on an almost daily basis. The part was broken, now it is fixed. Where once there were just pieces of wood, now there is a cabinet. Other jobs are not so lucky. Finishing piles of “paperwork” (not that we work with actual paper much anymore) or getting through all those unanswered emails, never seems to have the same sense of accomplishment. Often it is more a sense of relief when it is all done, and “relief” implies some sort of stress or pain has ended.

So, what is the source of this stress or pain in many jobs? The work itself? I suppose for some, but if the type of work you chose to do causes stress and pain you might want to ponder the masochistic underpinnings of that. Most people do not live their lives in pursuit of work and professions that cause them pain. Yes, some jobs are physically demanding and cause aches and strains, that is not what I am discussing here. Some of the most difficult, dirty, labour intensive, mentally challenging and hard-work demanding jobs are greatly enjoyed by the people that do them. What I am talking about is the mental and spiritual pain caused by what some perceive as the soul-sucking drudgery of work. Where does this soul-sucking drudgery come from? I contend it comes from leadership, or more accurately, a lack there of. The stress and pain of most jobs comes from poor unqualified “leaders” in name only. 

I work in a risk filled, physically demanding, labour intensive industry with high demands. Mining is one of the most dangerous industries in the world, working on giant-sized machines with giant-sized parts and giant-sized tools is labour intensive, and mining equipment maintenance is always under the constant pressure of mining production. They demand things be fixed “Now!” and fixing those things is often dirty and difficult. My roll within this industry has often been an autonomous roll that has taken me all over the world, through different countries and cultures, different mine sites, different companies and corporate cultures. I travel to these mine sites to support the companies that develop and maintain them, but I do not work directly for those companies. Often there are two companies on the one site, the customer and an OEM dealer. On large mine sites there will be multiple companies and often the spirit and attitude of the workers for these companies doing nearly identical work can be very disparate. 

If the work is the same, the environment the same and the demands the same, why the difference? Simple, people and attitudes. 

What people have the most effect on the culture and attitude of a company? The leaders.

Poor leaders suck the accomplishment out of everything, they make you feel like your best is never good enough, they do not properly acknowledge the fruits of their employees’ labour and even as a mechanic or craftsperson if what you produce is not recognized as having any value, then the sense of accomplishment is diminished. I wish I could say these types of leaders were rare, but they are not. And as I contend here, if they were rare, “work” wouldn’t have such a bad rap. Sad to say, but in my now 30+ years of working in maintenance and service, I have witnessed many more maintenance managers and supervisors unfit to lead people than I have great leadership from these rolls.

Great leaders create teams and cultures that feed a sense of purpose, accomplishment and belonging and when people are filled with a sense of purpose, accomplishment and belonging, they enjoy what they do, and they thrive. In my industry this should be easy for leaders, the sense of accomplishment is right in the work. Typically, the supervisor or manager simply must get out of the way of his employees while actively training, mentoring and supporting them. In other industries and jobs where perhaps there is a lack of daily accomplishment in the work itself, data entry for example where there is always more data to enter, and the database is never finished, the sense of accomplishment is the positive culture itself. Working as a team, supporting one another, establishing and maintaining positive relationships between team members and enjoying the fruits of those accomplishments. Then low and behold, the drudgery disappears into the sense of belonging.

It is shocking how many supposed “leaders” can’t do this. Managing instead with narcissism and an attitude that employees are there to serve them, pitting staff against one another and creating divisions and silos within organizations. And it is shameful how many companies promote such people and reward such attitudes. It is one of the reasons I work for myself these days and I believe one of the reasons many companies complain about not being able to find “good people”. Good people don’t want to work with your terrible leaders.

I would say it is not a matter of loving what you do to avoid feeling like you are working, but a case of feeling like you belong and are appreciated and avoiding the soul-sucking drudgery caused by weak leaders that diminishes or negates a sense of accomplishment and gives “work” a bad name.

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