The art of being yourself | Caroline McHugh | TEDxMiltonKeynesWomen

The art of being yourself | Caroline McHugh | TEDxMiltonKeynesWomen

Translator: TED Translators admin
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven The chances are you’ve looked in at least
one mirror today. You’ve had a shave,
or you combed your hair, or maybe you checked
your teeth for spinach after lunch, but what you didn’t know is that the face looking back at you isn’t the face that everybody else sees. It’s a kind of reversed, distorted, back-to-front image. Some years ago,
I was on a flight to New York, and I read an article in the FT, and it was an article about a phenomenon
called a True Mirror – and for the Americans listening,
that’s a mirror. The True Mirror was actually invented by a brother and sister team in New York, called John and Catherine Walters. What they discovered
is if you take two mirrors, and you put them together at right angles, and you take the seam away, the images bounce off each other. What you see when you look
in a True Mirror is exactly what other people
see when they look at you. So, I land in New York,
and I phone John up, and ask him if I can go and see him, and I end up in his gallery in Brooklyn; it was like being
at a sideshow in the circus. There were True Mirrors full length, face sized,
all over this gallery. When I walked over
to the True Mirror for the first time, and I looked in the mirror, it was one of the most disorientating
experiences I’ve ever had in my life. The first thing you notice
when you look in a True Mirror is that your head’s not on straight. Yours is kind of going that way, and yours is quite straight actually, and yours is going that way a wee bit; so apparently most of us
tilt our heads one way or another. So when you approach a True Mirror, the first thing you try and do
is fix your head, but, of course, because it’s reversed
you go the wrong way; so it’s very, very disorientating. But more importantly, I had a flashback. I had a flashback
to when I was a wee girl. I grew up in Glasgow – in case you haven’t noticed,
I am Scottish. I grew up in Glasgow, and my mom, when she was putting her makeup on, I used to love sitting and watching
my mom putting her makeup on, you know, with my chin in my hands. And I would tell her occasionally: “Isn’t it funny
how one side of your top lip is higher than the other side
of your top lip?” She’d look in the mirror
and she’d say, “It is not.” And I’d say: “No, it’s only
a couple of millimeters, but that side of your cupid’s bow
is definitely higher than the other side of your cupid’s bow.” She’d say, “Caroline, you’re havering.” When I looked in the True Mirror, there was the lip that I had been wearing,
at that time, for maybe 45 years, and I’d never seen it. The difference is
when you look in a regular mirror, you look for reassurance. You look for reassurance
that you’re beautiful, or you’re young, or you’re tidy, or your bum doesn’t look big in that. But when you look in a True Mirror, you don’t look at yourself, you look for yourself. You look for revelation,
not for reassurance. And this was deeply interesting to me because what I do for a living
is I help people be themselves. Not in any narcissistic
or solipsistic way, but because I believe
that social reformation begins, always starts with the individual. When you look at remarkable individuals – and when I say remarkable
or successful individuals, I don’t mean monetarily successful; I mean people that have been successful at achieving whatever they set out to do – you’ll find that the thing
they have in common is they have nothing in common. These are people who, you know, work in many of the fields I work in. I work with people in corporations, I work with captains of industry, I work with selected politicians. I’ve worked with geophysicists. I’ve worked with chamber orchestras and ballet dancers
and pop star and opera singers, and I’ve identified
the thread that links them. These are individuals who’ve managed
to figure out the unique gift that the universe gave them
when they incarnated, and then put that
at the service of their goals. I think that we all come complete. We come complete with one true note
we were destined to sing, and these are people
that have managed to figure that out. It doesn’t dictate your choice of job; what it dictates is how you do it. When we see these people we invariably call them larger than life. You know, you’ll see
somebody like Roberto Benigni, and you’ll say, “Oh my goodness.” Eve Ensler, she’s larger than life, which always makes me smile because how could you be larger than life? Life is large. But most of us don’t take up nearly the space
the universe intended for us. We take up this wee space around our toes, which is why when you see somebody
in the full flow of their humanity, it’s remarkable. They’re at least a foot
bigger in every direction than normal human beings, and they shine, they gleam, they glow; it’s like they’ve swallowed the moon. And all the work I’ve done
has led me to believe that individuality really is
all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, people who are
frightened to be themselves will work for those who aren’t afraid. Now your job is not to be
anything like any of the people that I put up behind me. In fact your job is to be as unlike them
as you can possibly be. Your only job while you’re
here on the planet is to be as good at being you as they are at being them. That’s the deal. So I want to start today by asking you an incredibly personal question. Not the one that says, “Why are there so many syllables
in the word ‘monosyllabic’?”. No. Not even the one that says, “Did you know that Britney Spears
is an anagram for Presbyterian?”. No. (Laughter) Something a wee bit more pivotal. In fact, this is a question that’s been
looking for you your whole life. It’s probably the simplest and the most complicated
question you’ll ever ask. Yet how many times in your life has somebody offered you
that well-meaning piece of advice that you should just be yourself? How many times have you
said it to somebody else? One of your kids comes to you,
or one of your team comes to you, and they tell you they’re nervous,
they’re scared. They have to go and do something
and their bold goes, and you say to them,
“Darlin’, just be yourself, because when you’re
yourself, you’re fabulous.” Now it always resonates
because it’s all we want to do. If you tell John to be himself, he doesn’t want to be Mary. He’s quite happy being himself, but it’s the use of the word
“just” that I find interesting because it would imply two things. Number one, that that was
an easy thing to do. Number two, that it was
an original piece of advice. You know, John had never
thought about it himself. When it comes to being yourself, when it comes to being in the world, the minute you showed up, the minute you incarnated, you were given a life sentence. Now, you don’t know how long you have. Maybe you have 70 years, and I have 62. We’ve no idea how long we have. Although, where you’re born, when you’re born, to whom you’re born, all these things have a certain influence or impact on how you
become who you become. If you’re born in Switzerland, chances are you’ve got a long time
to figure this shit out. If you’re born in Zimbabwe
or some parts of Glasgow, and I’m not kidding,
you’ve got significantly less time. So what I want you to think about
is not what your life expectancy is, but what do you expect from life? And what does life expect from you? Those are more interesting questions. And the two places in life
where you are awesome at being yourself, you’re fantastic at being yourself, one of them is when you’re a kid. When you’re a kid,
you’re fantastic at being yourself because you don’t know how to
disguise your differentness. That’s why you see kids on the beach, you know, naked up until the age of five, and then suddenly
at the age of six or seven they want a bathing suit,
they want a bikini. Who’s got a four-year-old boy? Anybody’s got a four-year-old boy? I’ll take a three-year-old. Jose, you’ve got a three-year-old boy. I want you to imagine
I go into Eduardo’s class in school, and it’s a class of three-year-old boys, and I say to the boys,
“Who’s the strongest boy in the class?” What’s going to happen? Every hand, right? Every single hand in the class will go up. They’ll be competitively strong. If I go into the same class, but it’s full of seven-year-old boys,
and ask the same question, they’ll say, “Him,” because they
know by time they’re seven. He’s the strong one, he’s the fastest runner, he’s the funny guy, he’s the bully. Society archetype emerges around about the age
of five, six, seven, eight. That’s why the Jesuits say, “Give me a boy until the age of seven,
and I’ll show you the man,” because that’s the birth of consciousness. And from then on
you become more self-conscious and by default less good
at being yourself. The other place you’re fantastic
at being yourself is when you’re a wrinkley, because you can’t be arsed. You get to that stage in your life where you realize
there are more summers behind you than there are in front of you, and everything intensifies. You become more honest; you become less compromising. So you’re going to tell people, “I don’t want the spinach,
I’m not going to eat it, I don’t like it. And I don’t like jazz,
so you can shut that noise off. And while I’m at it, I don’t like you!” (Laughter) We call these people “eccentric.” We call our oldies “eccentric.” In fact, what they’re doing
is being authentic. So it’s kind of like an hourglass effect: when you’re young
you’re great at being yourself; when you’re old
you’re great at being yourself; but the bit in the middle
is sometimes the most problematic. That’s the bit
where you have to socialize; you have to accommodate;
you have to adapt. So I’ve developed the “I complex,” and the “I complex”
is a model to help you figure out which “I” you mean when you say “I.” You’re very familiar
with the superiority complex. If you have a superiority complex,
you pretty much think you’re the most important
person in the room. If you’ve got an inferiority complex you suffer from
an over-modest self-regard. These are both signs of a fragile ego. One of them
is about delusions of grandeur, and the other one
delusions of insignificance. There’s a third way of being in the world, and I call it “interiority;” this is one of my made-up words. The word “interiority”
describes a particular disposition, and there are two reasons
it might be useful to you. Number one, it’s completely uncomparative. If you have a superiority complex
or an inferiority complex you need other people around. For a superiority complex you need other people to be smaller. For an inferiority complex
you need to suffer from the I’m-gonna-be-found-out syndrome, so somebody needs to find you out. Interiority is entirely unrelative, so to operate from this
position of interiority, it’s like a perceptual vantage point. It’s a sensibility. It’s an orientation. And it’s the only place in your life, the only place in your life, you have no competition. Try and find a comparison to yourself, and you’ll draw a blank. I could talk to you about interiority
till my tongue bleeds, or I could just show you
what it looks like. So I want to introduce you
to a woman called Jill Scott. You might have her on you iTunes playlist, but Jill’s a singer, and she’s just about
to go on stage and perform, and in case you missed the question, there’s a French filmmaker
who’s filming her. She’s going on stage after Erykah Badu, and he says to her, “Are you nervous, you know, going on after Erykah?” And I want you to listen to what she says. (Video) Jill Scott: That chick right there has definitely led the way for me
and a lot of other sisters. You know, I appreciate it. Interviewer: Are you nervous
you’re going to perform after her? (Laughter) JS: Have you ever seen me perform? I am the lady Jill Scott. I am a poet, and a singer, and a lot of other things. We all have our own thing,
that’s the magic, and everybody comes
with their own sense of strength, and their own queendom. Mine could never compare to hers, and hers could never compare to mine. Caroline McHugh: See, you didn’t
even know you had a queendom. That’s what it looks like. When you figure out how to be yourself it’s an incredibly liberating,
untragic way to go through life. You don’t develop an identity that’s predicated on being
a patchwork personality. You’re not a composite, an amalgam, of all your experiences and influences. You’re not just somebody’s boss,
or somebody’s mom, or anybody’s anything. You’re yourself. However, the chances are, there are at least four of you
sitting in each of those chairs, so let me introduce yourselves. The most visible “you”
that you represent to the outside world is what everybody else thinks of you, and there are as many opinions of you
as there are people. I want you to imagine
you’re like a big USB stick that you plug into the world. You show up on the desktop of the world. That’s the power of context. If you don’t understand that bit, being yourself can be
an ill-advised strategy. So of course it’s important
that you understand perception, but one of the things I’ve noticed,
in terms of gender, and I’m terribly,
untragically woman by the way. I don’t find myself tragically woman. I describe myself as a womanist,
rather than a feminist, but I’m also a card-carrying feminist. There are very few things
that I think are gender-specific, but one of them is something
I call “approval addiction.” The need to be liked,
the need for approbation, or recognition, or for somebody
to tell you it’s okay. I find more woman suffer
from that affliction than men, and I think it’s one
of the most debilitating things. When it comes to being yourself needing other people’s approval, loving sombody else’s opinion, and mistaking it for your own is one of the most debilitating things
you’ll do on the road to being yourself. You will never, ever be perception-less, but it’s important to be perception-free. One of the things that is going
to help you to be perception-free is to tune into the next circle
of the “I complex.” This is your wish image. This is what you would like
everybody else to think of you, and it’s not about being fake,
or fad, or pretending. It’s about moving; it’s about possibility; it’s about potential;
it’s about supposition. So, whilst there’s a part of you
that’s like your backbone, this part of you is like your wishbone. This one is your adaptive personality,
your construct self, and even that’s unique because nobody in the world has had the same experiences
or influences that you have. But this is the you that keeps moving, that keeps changing all the time. And it helps you avoid
being one of those people … You know the people that say to you
they have 15 years experience when they mean one year, 15 times? They literally repeat themselves, year, after year, after year. What I want you to think about
is with every passing year, your job is to be better and better at being who you already are. This is not a cosmetic exercise. You’re already different. Your job is to figure out how, and then to be more of that. Now, there are certain times in your life that lend themselves to change, that make change quicker, deeper. I call them intervals of possibility. Now, they’re not always
as well sign-posted as this one, but you know those times in your life when you come
to a bifurcation on the path, and you sense that the potential
for change is heightened. You meet a stranger in a bar; you have to decide
what you’re going to do. Your boss comes to you
and offers you a new job. What do you want, you want
to keep doing the same thing, or do you want this job? And you know that if you make that change, the speed of your life will change. Unfortunately,
some of these interventions, some of these intervals
of possibility, are catastrophic. In fact, most of them are catastrophic ’cause most of us would rather sleepwalk until something happens to wake us up. And what will happen is
somebody you love will get sick, or you’ll get sick, or you’ll get fired. Or maybe it’s something impersonal. Maybe 9/11 happens,
or the tsunami happens, or the Kashmiri earthquake happens, but something happens
that rocks you back into that inner self, and makes you ask the question
I asked you at the beginning of this talk. The problem is when it
happens catastrophically is you’re vulnerable, you’re weak. And my question is, why wouldn’t you ask yourself
these questions when you’re strong, from a position of health? When you’re in a job, when you’re loved: that’s when the questions
become most useful. So the question on this one is, “If you could be the woman
of your dreams, who would you be?” And my tongue’s nowhere near my cheek when I ask you that question. The thing that might stop you
being the woman of your dreams is the next circle, and that’s what you think of you. So now you’ve got
what others think of you, what you would like
others to think of you, and this is what you think of you. And you have good days
and bad days, right? There’s days where you wake up
and you think you’re the bee’s knees. And other days you wake up and you can’t even say your name. Even your cellphone feels too heavy. On the days when you wake up and you feel like the bee’s knees, it’s not even like you’ve got a reason. It’s like free-floating joy in your body just looking for a target, and you know how it feels on those days
because (sizzling sound). You just think, “Somebody give
me an audience; I’m on fire! Quick, point me somewhere!” And your hair’s fabulous,
and everything just works, everything works on those days. But the other days nothing works. Your legs don’t work,
your mouth doesn’t work. The word thief comes
and steals your entire vocabulary. Those are two extremes of your ego, and one of them
is about self-congratulation, and the other one
is about self-castigation. Now your entire life,
I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how old you are, your entire life, from birth up until now has been about building
a stable relationship with your ego. You need an ego to live
in a Western, capitalist world. If you didn’t have an ego you’d be toast. But your challenge is to take the ego
from its dominant position and pull it back, so that
it’s in service to yourself. That’s when it becomes useful,
and in order to do that you’ve got to find the still point
right in the middle of those two extremes. That’s what I would call
equanimity, or equilibrium, and it’s the kind of state of mind that cannot be perfumed in any way by anything that happens outside you. This kind of confidence
that comes from there is like the confidence of the sky. Right now it’s dark outside, but you know if you went up in a plane, even in the stormiest of days, the sky’s brilliant blue underneath. When you look at the sky,
and it’s made a rainbow, and it’s absolutely gorgeous, there’s no question
that the sky’s up there going, “Ha, did you see my rainbow?” Or when it’s a terrible, bleak, you know, gray, gloomy day, that the sky’s going to apologize. No, the sky just is, because the sky sees
the impermanence of the clouds, and the impermanence of the rainbows, and you have to develop
an inner state of mind that’s as impervious to all the good shit
and bad shit that happens to you as the sky is to the weather. We would also call this,
in a Western context, we would call this feeling
a feeling of humility, and one day last week
where I got to work with UK Sport, and particularly, I got to work
with the amazing coaches, who worked with the amazing
Olympic athletes, who got all those amazing results
at the Summer Olympics. It was incredible to be in the same room
as 400 of these people. The woman who runs UK Sport
is a woman called Baroness Campbell, and she gave me a definition of humility that’s as good as any I’ve ever found. She said, “Humility is not
thinking less of yourself; humility is thinking about yourself less.” And I remembered learning
that lesson when I was a wee girl and probably no more than seven or eight, it was the woman with the squinty mouth
that taught me the lesson. She had no idea, my mother, what she was doing to me
as I was growing up, but when I grew up in Glasgow, particularly working-class,
steel-industry Glasgow, nobody had any money, so nobody could afford
to go out and be entertained. Everybody’s social life
happened in a house, so at the weekends,
all the wrinklys and all the kids would show up at people’s houses, and they would drink
’til their kneecaps were on backwards, and all that kind of stuff, but everybody at some point
in the evening had to perform. And it was a riot, because these people
were bus conductresses, and welders, and carpenters by daytime, but then they’d show up at nighttime and come and be Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin, and Sarah Vaughan, and Billy Eckstine. They were all… in my house
it was like a star-studded affair, living in my house, and all the kids
were taught to perform as well. And so, I’m the oldest of four girls – my mother had four daughters. So did my father, interestingly enough. But we were brought up
from any age to perform, and we’d be wheeled out
at these family parties, me with my guitar
and my sisters around me, and we’d have to sing. We’d be literally positioned,
Jose, like the Von Trapps. You know, my father would say,
“Beneda there, Louise there,” and then we would sing,
and we were terrible. We were absolutely rubbish. One night my mother came up to get us
and we were having pillow fights she showed up and she said,
“Right lasses, everybody’s ready. Go down and give them a song.” And this night I was just overcome. I said, “I don’t want to sing.” She said, “Why do you not want to sing?” I said, “I’m shy.” She said, “What’re you shy for?” I said, “Well, everybody’s
going to be looking at me,” and I’ll never forget her face. She looked at me, she said, “Caroline,
don’t flatter yourself, darlin’. (Laughter) You think anybody downstairs
is interested in you? They’re not. Your job’s to go and make
them happy, so go and sing.” I said “okay”, and I picked up my guitar and I picked up my
sisters, and you know what? That advice has never left me. But what it has left me with is spectacular disregard
for where my abilities end, and spectacular disregard
for being the center of attention. In fact, since that day, I have never
been the center of attention. You’re the center of mine, and that’s a very different feeling. So last, the last you, and the opposite of least, is the ever-present unchanging you. This is the you that you’ve been
since you were seven, and the you that you’ll be
when you’re 107, please God. I spend a lot of time in India, and in India you’re raised
with this feeling that you’re a spiritual being
who happens to be in a physical body, whereas we in the West
are much more into our physical bodies, and then if we get old enough
and long in the tooth enough, we kind of get interested in spirit. But, if you’ve ever been
to the Gandhi museum in Delhi you’ll know that this is
the line that is above the door, and it was actually a response by Gandhi to a question from a journalist. Gandhi was getting on a train and the journalist called after him, “Gandhiji, Gandhiji, what’s
your message to the world?” And Gandhi turned around and said, “My life. My life’s my message.” And your life is your message, too. It might not be as big
a message as Gandhi’s – mine certainly isn’t – but your life has to be your message. Otherwise, why are you here? It’s not like you’ve got a spare. So when you think about your identity, when you think about
what it means to be alive, when you think about
why you deserve to exist, you’re not your thoughts,
because you think them. And you can’t be your feelings, because otherwise,
who’s the you that feels them? You’re not what you have;
you’re not what you do; you’re not even who you love,
or who loves you. There has to be something
underneath all that. When you look at people
who have managed to transcend all these judgments
that we put upon them – You know, this man here,
he couldn’t be judged as a man, or a black man, or young, or old, or Democrat, or Republican, nor a gay, or a straight. It really, really wouldn’t have mattered because he knew why he was here. Yes, we can. So you see, he seemed to be a verb. Even when you’re born without many of the attributes
that some of your peers may have, even when you’re born in a way that may lead you to feel impotent, if you can tap into that voice, if you can tap into that inner voice that I’ve been talking about, you might just end up being, at 12 years old,
the youngest person ever called to the National World Champion Swim Team. You might even end up at the age of 13 being the youngest Olympian
gold medal winner, ever. You might even end up at 14 being the youngest person
ever to get an MBE. That’s what happens when you dial in
to the personal pronoun. So if you can do this, not only will the speed
of your life get quicker, not only will the substance
of your life get richer, but you will never feel superfluous again. (Applause) Thank you.

100 thoughts on “The art of being yourself | Caroline McHugh | TEDxMiltonKeynesWomen”

  1. This is not a coincidence that you’re reading this.

    🔥🔆Jesus LOVES. YOU…..🔥🔆

    It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’ve done, JESUS LOVES YOU WITH ALL HIS HEART.


    He’s waiting. He CARES FOR YOU❤️😭

  2. I have never been told in my life that I need to be myself. I have always been told to be someone else. I never did get the chance to find myself until I broke away and started searching on my own. 🙂 I still haven't found it fully, but I have a grand idea of it. This was a joy to watch. Thank you Carol Schindler for this presentation.

  3. K hate when these speakers (who should know better) assume everyone has had a healthy happy childhood… it shuts me down to their speeches.

  4. this woman is ridiculous, her opinions, her wardrobe, and especially the bit about "true mirrors". she saw an unreversed mirror image of her own face and this was life changing to her? since when does your face have anything to do with who you are really?

  5. My greatest fear is being misunderstood. And yet, I've never been good at being my vulnerable self. I don't want my life to be a message that is not mine.

  6. OMG! I saw her photo for the first time ages and ages ago on Ari Seth Cohen's blog, Advanced Style, and I've never forgotten her. Didn't know who she was until I saw this video.

  7. OMG. I DID NOT KNOW SHE WAS GOING TO MENTION MY FAVORITE SINGER EVER- JILL SCOTT! Oh, the irony. I'm going to see her perform this weekend at Afropunk too! 😩😍😍😍🙌🏾

  8. Someone, please re-upload this and turn up the volume. I am NOT going to be leashed to a pair of headphones. If you cant or won't, I will NOT be able to listen to you…and I won't listen to you. Based on what I was able to hear, you might want me to hear and be on your side. Do or do not.

  9. Yes, women have their own queendom, it is also true that men have their own kingdom. Now, are women trying to downplay men or do they want what is best for everyone? How do we come together?

  10. If you try to make me feel like I am less than I am, I cannot help you. If you appreciate me, i might move heaven and earth to help you. No, you can't tell me, you have to ask. And you really should ask nicely. JUST Saying.

  11. I watched it years ago, and now a random quote from Howard Thurston reminded me of McHugh's anectode on her experience with her mother. Now I watched the whole lecture again, and clearly am able to see the powerful points which are overlapping with Eckhart Tolle's ideas on so-called 'Being' made in this video. So grateful for her to inspire others in this remarkable way.

  12. When I was in the 4th grade I had to use the restroom. When I got there, there was 3 other boys messing around, I knew all 3 by name. 1 of the boys bumped into me rather hard. The other 2 boys were outraged a little, I'm guessing. Because the next thing that happens is they grab the boy who bumped into me, held him up against the wall then they asked what I wanted Them to do to him.. I told them to leave him alone.

    Would I have been pointed out as the strong one.. The "shotcaller" lol maybe. I've gotten a lot smarter since then. Although, this temper of mine is atrocious!!

  13. Does being a rockstar or actor or politician or CEO make us happy though? Most of those people see very few as their equals and are actually quite isolated. It is connection that makes us happy. Connection with loved ones, our environment and ourselves. That is how we peel away layer after layer and find who is underneath. Life can be easy and comfortable and joyful! The people who are celebrities do have a superiority complex though. We need to stop rewarding narcissists. Life shouldn't be a spectator sport for any of us and celebrities need an audience, and CEO's need people below them. There just isn't room for all of us at the top! We should share a little more and life would be easier.

  14. Having watched this after watching Doctor Strange, I'm 95% sure she is part of the reason why they cast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One.

  15. All suffering is rooted in self. There is no self. You, me and everything else is ONE. Division is created by the illusion of senses. The Buddha knew this 2600 years ago, now quantum physics confirms that. Or Carl Jung: “Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.”

  16. i am really discouraged about watching this because steve job is up on that screen but i also want to watch it cos the speaker looks like a blade runner villain

  17. She has an amazing speaking voice, and with her accent, it is incredibly relaxing listening to her speak. And on top of that it is a brilliant message. Absolutely amazing talk.

  18. This is incredible. I wonder what would come of a society that based public education of its children upon self uniqueness and encouraged inner wisdom and instinct.

  19. This Tedx talk is pure gold and this woman is so inspiring ! I promise myself to think about it everyday and to come back to watch this amazing speech again.

  20. Sincerely wondering why… why would someone feel the need to expend their energy to "thumbs down" such a message? Only positivity emanated thru this message. My heart is sad for those who are so sad, lonely, or foolish to not be open enough to have heard the truth in the message.

    Peace & blessings to all…

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