#036 Overcoming Imposter Syndrome with Dr Matt Zakreski

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome podcast with Dr Matt Zakreski

Do you think you’re a fraud and one of these days someone is going to discover it?!

Then you need this episode as Dr Matt Zakreski takes us through what is imposter syndrome, how does it make us feel and how can we move through it!

Go to www.ourgiftedkids.com/podcast to download Dr Matt Zakreski’s slides on Imposter Syndrome!

Hit play and let’s get started!

Memorable Quote

“Doing the thing is the biggest antidote to imposter syndrome, right? Because imposter syndrome is anxiety and anxiety just wants us to stand still. Anxiety wants us to do nothing.

That loud voice in my head is screaming, you’re an imposter, you’re an imposter, you’re an imposter, but you know what?

I put some paint on a canvas today. I ran today. I practice my oboe today. I surfed today. I filled out my own application for uni today. I did those things today.

It doesn’t untangle, it doesn’t make imposter syndrome go away, but every time you take a concrete action, its grip on you gets a little bit less.

And that’s a very cool thing.” – Dr Matt Zakreski


Dr Matt Zakreski Bio

Psychologist, Gifted Expert, International Speaker

Matthew Zakreski, PsyD is a high energy, creative clinician who utilizes an eclectic approach to meet the specific needs of his clients.  He specializes in working with children and adolescents, as well as their families, in providing therapy and conducting psychological evaluations.  Dr. Matt is proud to serve as a consultant to schools, a professor at the university level, and a researcher and author on his specialty, Giftedness. 

Dr. Matt thrives in supporting young people in understanding, developing, and celebrating their unique brains and ways of operating in their world. He is best known for his work with Gifted individuals and in being an advocate for implementing high-level supports and understanding of Gifted needs.  He is a board member of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education and active in multiple Gifted organizations around the country.

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    [00:00:00] Sophia Elliott: .Welcome to the podcast, Dr. Matt, thank you for joining us. Uh, excellent. We’re always happy to have you and look forward to these chats and your insights for us into the gifted world. And today I’m actually super excited to be talking about imposter syndrome because. Don that sucks,

    [00:00:24] Dr Matt Zakreski: right?

    [00:00:29] Sophia Elliott: Yeah. Yeah. It really is. And so I think at some 0.1 of my questions will be to kids. Get it too. Cause I certainly know adults do,

    [00:00:41] but let’s start off. First of all, with what is imposter syndrome?

    [00:00:45] Dr Matt Zakreski: Okay. So imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where a person consistently doubts their accomplishments and has this fear of being exposed as a fraud that you’ve got to have both things for it to be true imposter syndrome.

    [00:01:01] Right. Cause we all have self-doubt sometimes like, am I doing a good job answering the questions on this podcast? Right. That’s a, self-doubt that’s happening right now. Right. But if you’re, if you have that, plus you’re worried that the imaginary. Um, imposter police is going to kick open the door to your house and drag you out of there.

    [00:01:19] Like we finally got you, you know, that’s true imposter syndrome, this idea of being able to not internalize and own the successes you have, because you are found some reason that they don’t matter.

    [00:01:32] Sophia Elliott: And so it sounds like there’s a real sense of kind of fear anxiety associated to potentially being found out as a, as a fraud.

    [00:01:41] Yeah. And so why is it particularly relevant in the gifted context?

    [00:01:48] Dr Matt Zakreski: So the research on imposter syndrome has consistently identified that people who are, are made to feel or feel different, right? So those three things, they are different. They are made to feel different or they feel. Are much more likely to feel like imposters.

    [00:02:10] And so if you are, the only, you know, say that you are an American who moves abroad and you’re the only American in your class of Australians, of Australian students, you are much more likely to feel like an imposter. Because you are made to feel different and that may be explicit. Look at the American, or it might be implicit where they people just stop and say to you, like, like, oh, this word that I said means this, right.

    [00:02:39] You’re constantly reminded that you’re different. And the phenomenon the research on it started in the late seventies, early eighties on wall street, which is the finance financial capital of the us, where they had a few women who were working in these big deal firms. These women were successful and well-liked, but they were miserable and they were anxious and they would pack their, their offices up every Friday, convinced they were about to be fired because they were a half dozen women and several hundred men.

    [00:03:10] And they were so aware of that difference that they felt like imposter. So for gifted kids who are so aware of their difference, I am not like other six-year-olds cause I can do multivariate calculus. Right. And the other six year olds are playing Pokemon. That feeling can manifest as imposter syndrome.

    [00:03:30] Like I don’t belong here. There’s a reason that I’m not like everybody else. So they’re going to find me out and they’re going to kick me out of the school. 

    [00:03:39] Sophia Elliott: am I right in saying that there’s. I, uh, what’s the word I’m looking for tendency or prevalence amongst highly intelligent people in terms of impulse to syndrome?

    [00:03:56] Uh, is that correct? For

    [00:03:58] Dr Matt Zakreski: sure. And there’s actually even sort of two answers, two levels of answer to that question, right? The first part is the more intelligent you are. The more aware you are of both what, you know, but more importantly, what you don’t know. Right. So when I sat down to write my dissertation on giftedness, my original draft was 250 pages.

    [00:04:19] And my advisor looked at and said, this is a book. I don’t, this isn’t, this isn’t a dissertation. Dissertations are 70 pages. This is stop, stop this. But I was like, I have to know everything. Right. I had, I had 20 different citations on overexcitabilities and overexcitabilities had nothing to do with what I wrote.

    [00:04:41] I know, and I need to know, so I have to learn, but every time I learn, I like to learn another thing and, and I can sense the people out there in podcast land nodding, right? Like, oh, Hey Harold, go to the store and buy a bottle of wine. Okay. And let’s see, what kinds of winds are there?

    [00:05:00] What kinds of vineyards are there? What kind of the gray or the grapes come from? Where do, how, how much does the wine costs? I mean like, are there good grips? Are there bad grapes? And like you find like Harold and the more, the more cognitively complex you are, the more you are able to engage in and appreciate the complexity of things.

    [00:05:19] That can grind you to a halt and can also lead to imposter syndrome because it’s this, and someone asks you like, what do you do? Right.

    [00:05:30] That’s a simple answer. The complex answer that that makes you more likely to feel like an imposter is the, I do 93 things. I have this training or lack of training. I, this was my journey. And, and it’s the sort of thing that it sets you up to feel, to be made, to feel different. Right. And that’s a, it’s a major.

    [00:05:56] Systemic factor in, uh, in creating imposter syndrome. The other aspect of really smart people and imposter syndrome is a subset phenomenon called the theory of relativity syndrome. Um, so the idea here is that Albert Einstein right there, relativity, um, he spent the last half of his career at Princeton university here in the United States.

    [00:06:22] And while he was at. To academic papers, one clarifying a small point on the equals MC squared and the other apologizing for not being able to write the grand unified theory, which was supposed to be his third great thing he did because Einstein said he’s like, when you changed the world twice, all other work seems like it doesn’t matter.

    [00:06:46] And that’s just such a powerful moment because our kids. Are capable of great work. They are capable of paradigm shifting work, work that blows minds we’re work. That changes the game, but nobody does work like that all the time. That’s not possible. Right. And if every time you recorded a podcast, it had to be the best podcast ever of all time, you burn yourself out, not possible,

    [00:07:16] Sophia Elliott: stuck procrastinating,

    [00:07:18] Dr Matt Zakreski: you would overprepare, which is one aspect of imposter syndrome, or you’d put it off.

    [00:07:26] And that’s the other aspect, right? It’s the, it’s this like, whatever I can do to keep myself from actually doing the thing. Because if I wasn’t to do the thing, I might find that it’s not as good as I want it to be. Right. So there’s a part of the reason I had. So I only wrote two papers. It’s not like you stared at the wall for 10 years.

    [00:07:42] He just got stuck. And, so I tell the kids I work with good can be the enemy of great, that’s a true thing. Right. But great can be the enemy of done. And sometimes we need to just get things.

    [00:07:58] Sophia Elliott: Yeah, I like that a lot. Mm. Yeah. And so I feel like that really ties into those 10 CS around perfectionism, which is obviously very strong within the kind of gifted context as well.

    [00:08:18] Uh, so. I’d have to digest that for a second. That’s the first time I’ve heard that one about Albert Einstein. So that’s cool. And I totally get that. And I think where I have come across a similar idea is I think sometimes an expectation amongst parents of gifted children that the gifted child, because they’re gifted, therefore they always have to be a.

    [00:08:51] You know, excelling kind of exponentially. There, there always have to be in that upward trajectory when the truth is, we all need to cruise sometimes and plateau and it’s, and that’s important for consolidation and integrating what we’ve just had a leap on. And yeah, the idea of Yeah, we can’t be great all of the time we do need that sort of timeout just to consolidate and be normal humans and and, and do the life thing for a bit.

    [00:09:21] Yeah, that’s really interesting. Okay. So what, uh, the possible effects of imposter syndrome on someone, what might someone be experiencing in the way that it impacts their life?

    [00:09:38] Dr Matt Zakreski: This is it it’s best summed up by saying stressed out. It’s a awful thing, right? For sure. Because you’re aware of what you need to do it. You are paralyzed by two competing forces. The I’m not ready yet. I need to do more. Oh, my God, these feelings is about, I want to run the opposite direction from it. So you’re both over-preparing and avoidant.

    [00:10:03] So it’s like, Hey, that’s both terrible. And while you, if, and then if the stars align, you’re actually able to do the. You’re sort of sitting there thinking, well, this isn’t good enough. Like what if this paper’s already written? What if somebody has already done this dance move? What if what, if there’s a better soccer player out there than me that I just don’t know about yet.

    [00:10:23] And part of untangling imposter syndrome is acknowledging that those things may be true and we have to do it anyway. And then the chances that they’re not true, you get to do it anyway. Right. I’m not going to say that my dissertation on giftedness changed the world because it didn’t right.

    [00:10:46] It’s an above average dissertation. It’s pretty good. Right. And that’s okay. Right. It’s, it’s a hell of a lot better than the 250 page monstrosity. I dropped on my advisor’s desk. Just like if you and I decided to rehearse this podcast forever until it was perfect. Hey, it would lose something, right. It would lose that sort of like organic you and I just bang ideas back and forth together.

    [00:11:13] But also you and I would be like, just burn the rest of our days. And it’s eight 30 here on the east coast of the United States. And I got to go to bed at some point. So. So it’s bit, you know, it’s this really stressful thing where you sort of hit on all sides from like, I’m not good enough. I’m not ready yet.

    [00:11:30] I can’t do this while I’m doing it. It’s stressful. And you can imagine how that’s going to manifest in a person of light, just sort of this rigid, like I like frozen in fear sort of situation.

    [00:11:42] Sophia Elliott: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And that completely resonates with me. Definitely. And I know from parents, I talked to that.

    [00:11:53] Well, I’m getting that sense that when parents talk a lot about perfectionism, maybe, actually, what is in the mix, there is also a lot of imposter syndrome going on with their kids. And, and I’m sure that people are listening especially Uh, I don’t listen to this, like ourselves thinking.

    [00:12:12] Yeah. Imposter syndrome. That’s definitely something that I’ve experienced. And I know even when I first started doing the podcast and the whole gifted thing, it was very much like, well, who am I to do this? Do you know? But thankfully I learned earlier in my career in politics that actually.

    [00:12:33] Well, the world gets run by the people who turn up and who am I? I’m the person who turned up. Do you know, like, and it doesn’t mean that, most days I’m still kind of like, oh, what am I doing? I’m just I’m painting it done. I’m just going for done rather than perfect. As you will know, from out Elliot.

    [00:12:53] The questions that I did not send in advance. But it’s just kind of like, no, I just got to get it done rather than procrastinate, which is a big thing for me. So, I just can put my hands certainly on my heart and say that, uh, yeah, that’s a. Something that I struggle with with on a regular basis.

    [00:13:09] But I get the sense that it’s not gender specific. We did talk about sort of women on wall street initially, but men, women or wherever your identifying in terms of gender cultural age, like I’m getting the sense that it’s open slider. Anyone can experience.

    [00:13:30] Dr Matt Zakreski: Yeah, there was actually a beautiful piece written by a an Aboriginal researcher at the university of Perth in west Australia.

    [00:13:40] About their, their experiences of imposter syndrome as a researcher, as an academic. Right. And like you, I belong here. Am I some token hire? No, I was trained at Oxford. I have like the, I had the degrees. I I’m good at this, but also like, do I belong here? And it was, I mean, and that’s, in that particular situation where the differences are very overtly.

    [00:14:05] Right. You might find a deeper, more intransigent sense of, of imposter syndrome. And then you also might get some of the, stereotype, threat bias stuff that, that loads in from the outside, right. Mostly imposter syndrome is an internal thing. You know, but it’s. And one of the things you spoke to before, which I think is really important to, to think about, as you try to untangle your own relationship with imposter syndrome, we tend to look up when we compare ourselves to others.

    [00:14:36] Right? So it’s like how many podcasts are out there? Well, and where are my numbers on podcasts? Vis-a-vis whoever else’s podcast. Right. And. Or if you’re a scientist, you tend to look at the most successful scientists. If you’re a mathematician who won the fields map poll, and in doing so, we lose looking at people who are peers, people who are at our level.

    [00:14:59] And we don’t look at the people who have done less than, than us, including those of us who have done. How many moms have, how many moms are out there? How many moms of gifted kids are out there? How many of them actually started a podcast let to let alone an international one? Right? You, I mean, you, you know what I mean?

    [00:15:16] Look, you get P you get big deal people from here in the states and me.

    [00:15:21] So, but that’s, you know, I mean, that’s the thing, right? Doing the thing is the biggest. Antidote to imposter syndrome, right? Because imposter syndrome is anxiety and anxiety. This wants us to stand still. Anxiety wants us to do nothing committed action is this, Hey, you know what? That loud voice in my head is screaming.

    [00:15:45] And you’re in a posture, you’re in a posture and a posture, but you know what? I put some paint on a canvas today. I ran today. I practice my elbow today. I used surfed today. I filled out my own. Application for uni today. I did those things today. It doesn’t untangle, it doesn’t make imposter syndrome go away, but every time you take a concrete action, its grip on you gets a little bit less.

    [00:16:12] And that’s a very cool thing.

    [00:16:14] Sophia Elliott: That is a very cool thing. So for anyone out there listening, thinking, right, I really need to get a handle on. The best thing they can do is just take baby steps. Just take some kind of action, despite the kind of voices, trying to keep us safe, because I think, in as much as those voices No, maybe anxiety ridden and maybe preventing us moving forward in a, in a way they’re also trying to keep us safe and small and in that one spot, and it’s almost like.

    [00:16:49] Whether it’s a good place or not. It’s what, you know, and it’s therefore safe place. And so breaking out of that can be scary, definitely. But by taking those baby steps, we can start to move forward and out of that, and I’m guessing it’s like anything, it’s a muscle, we’ve just got to keep doing it, keep practicing it and keep moving forward.

    [00:17:10] Dr Matt Zakreski: Yeah. And making sure that you’re moving forward in ways that actually move you forward. Right. Because. If you are, for instance, if you’re trying to write it, you actually actually have to write, not edit the stuff you’ve already written and I’m calling a lot of people out, including myself, right? Like he’s like, well, I mean, I can’t write, I have to make sure that things like, and this is the thing it’s almost like you should save and hide everything you write and just start from a fresh page.

    [00:17:44] Right. Right. And it’s the same way. If you are trying to do art, it’s the same thing. If you are trying to practice your musical instrument or play field hockey or whatever it is you’re going to do, because it’s so easy to hide in the repetitive actions that feel safe, that we feel like we have gained mastery over, but that’s, and so then you can lie to yourself and say, well, I’m doing.

    [00:18:13] I read 30, 32 articles today. There are 32 more than I needed, but I read them more. I know things. Right. And, and it’s, it’s the sort of thing that I would, I tell the kids I work with. I would rather you vomit out 10 pages of absolute garbage about the thing you read. And then we’ll edit it and we’ll fix it together.

    [00:18:40] Then you deciding that you need to read the complete works of Herman Melville before you even put pen to paper. And the kids will think about how do I manage my anxiety around that? It’s like you grit your teeth and you climb the two minute mountain because when we start something new, when we try to do a committed action, our anxiety is highest for 90 seconds.

    [00:19:02] When we started thinking there’s 90 seconds of very intense anxiety. And like, and if you can survive that 90 seconds, you’re going to be okay, but you got to climb the two minute mountain. That’s what it is. It’s this like you’re sitting down and you pull out your manuscript and you’re, you’re writing some words and then you started to feel anxious and you go, well, maybe I’ll just, maybe I’ll just go back and I’ll make sure that everything.

    [00:19:26] And then you just say, okay, this is my two. And then mountain. I have to keep writing for two minutes and then that feeling is going to go away and just turn all the way. And then like you look up and two minutes have passed and you’re like, okay, I survived that I can keep going. You know, that’s right.

    [00:19:46] That’s such a.

    [00:19:49] And making yourself aware of that process, the physiological response to anxiety going down there, usable aware of that is actually another part of curing this because you know, like I’ve given, I don’t know about a hundred talks on giftedness and it’s my favorite part of my job. And every single time I do, I have.

    [00:20:14] I’m going to log on and there’s going to be nobody there. And just to sign on the zoom that says, we figured out that you’re a fraud, get outta here. Then they finally got me. I’ve been, you know, I’ve done so well. And that hasn’t happened yet and knock wood that it’s ever going to happen. I don’t think it’s going to Every time.

    [00:20:30] I start talking every time I get into the flow about halfway through, I sort of take a moment. I reflect like, okay, I’m doing a pretty good job at this. Right. I’m in the moment I’m doing the thing. And in those moments where I reflect my imposter syndrome is silent because it’s not real.

    [00:20:52] Sophia Elliott: I think there’s a quote for today.

    [00:20:54] That’s not real. It’s not real, so it’s not real. And we just couldn’t do the thing for two minutes to like, fail the feels grit for two minutes, get over the hump. Yeah. Probably grit 10 minutes. And then, and then that’s, that’s the hog bit. I like that. Yeah, absolutely.

    [00:21:22] I’m not sure where to go next to this.

    [00:21:28] Dr Matt Zakreski: Um, so, so I was, I was talking about this once and, and I was at uh, supporting the emotional needs of the gifted mini conference out in Seattle, Washington in the us and Mike Postma. Our major Domo of, of saying, had asked me, can you do something around pastors? Um, yeah, I can do that. Sure. I suffer from it.

    [00:21:48] I, I’m not just an expert. I’m also a member, right. So I put a, a top together and I was ready to go. And of course the room is filled because a lot of people want to learn about imposter syndrome. It’s. Of all the talks I give. It’s the one that they get the biggest emotional response, because everyone is sitting there thinking I’m the only one who feels this way.

    [00:22:10] I know we’re all dealing with this, right. I mean, come on. And so I always tell me, like, if this describes you, raise your hand and everyone like awkwardly looks around the room is everyone’s hands are raised. We’re going through this and Susan Daniels, right? Who is a giant in our field. And one of the kindest and sweetest humans I’ve ever had the good pleasure of meeting it’s sitting in the front row, right.

    [00:22:33] Eight feet from me. And it was at one point she looks at me and she goes, oh my God, that’s so many. Oh, wow. Why those a gear Susan Daniel, right? That’s another thing you don’t have a pasta distributor, Susan Daniels. And, and then doing some proving my point, right? That you know, that the giants of our fields, our heroes are legends feel that way.

    [00:23:03] You know what I mean? Gordon Ramsey, the, the chef has spoken at length about imposter syndrome because he grew up very poor growing up, not eating five star Michelin meals, Ray, growing up, eating, beans on toast. And, he’s like I spent the first 10 years of my career waiting for someone to say, you’re just a, you’re just a kid from Glasgow who doesn’t belong in a French kitchen.

    [00:23:25] And, and it’s this idea, like not only does it sort of co-occur with intelligence, but it also cokers. Success and achievement, the higher we climb, the higher we have to fall. And our anxiety is very aware of that, right? So it’s like, Hey, Hey, you fooled everybody. You know, like there you are, you think you’re the CEO of this company, but you’re actually a fraud.

    [00:23:52] And and it’s not helping us. It’s not telling us the truth, but it’s loud and it’s constant and it’s in our head. Right. So that is a. Part of this process, part of the reason we’re having this podcast and that you’re listening to it is that the next time these feelings show up, you can name this as imposter syndrome and say like, Hey, this is just my imposter syndrome talking.

    [00:24:17] You know, if I fail out in the world, the world will do a very good job of letting. Right. If you write a book and you submit it to a publisher and they go, this is the worst thing I’ve ever read. You know, you tried to write Harry Potter and you called it Perry hotter. And that’s just not even fair. Come on, get out of here with this as trust me, the world will fail.

    [00:24:39] You fail you on its terms. Don’t do the work for him. Yeah. Yeah. Ask the person out on a date, try out for the soccer team, apply to uni, apply them, graduate school, write the book, the host. Right? Get

    [00:24:56] Sophia Elliott: it done.

    [00:24:57] Dr Matt Zakreski: It had done

    [00:24:59] Sophia Elliott: good. Good is done. Absolutely right. It’s done. Yeah. Uh, I love that. And what a great note to kind of wrap up on.

    [00:25:08] So imposter syndrome. Like everyone’s failing it. Everyone’s failure. It’s okay. We can talk about this stuff. And I think the more we do kind of talk about it and share it, and that sense of we can all be a bit vulnerable. We’re all just human doing the life thing. Some days we do that better than others, but we still gotta get through it.

    [00:25:35] And And yeah, I think, I think that’s the thing for me, we’re all just kind of, you know, humans having the, having the human kind of experiment as they say, and, and doing the best that we can. So. I like that. We’ve left everyone with a few tools, a few strategies there get over the first two minutes.

    [00:25:59] Just bear that grit, grit, and, and do it, take those baby steps, exercise that muscle around overcoming the imposter syndrome and say it out loud. I, I do that a lot with my kids as well. Normally it’s you know, mommy’s tired and needs help, but I, now I can say mommy’s feeling fosters gives me a hug, if

    [00:26:22] Dr Matt Zakreski: something right.

    [00:26:23] And that’s, that’s exactly it. Th there was a great quote about this that you have, who has imposter syndrome.

    [00:26:32] Sophia Elliott: Everyone,

    [00:26:34] Dr Matt Zakreski: all the smart, successful people that you think have their shit together.

    [00:26:37] Sophia Elliott: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I, you know, and I actually, I think you nailed it there. Because I think that may have been a comment that I said earlier about, I know you did a great reference down there, but it’s.

    [00:26:53] You know, I’ve always felt like people look at me like I’ve kind of got my shit together, which is nice to think that people think though of me, but I’m just going, I’m doing this day by day. A lot of it I’m making up as I go along and, uh, just in good grace doing the best that I can and, and being brave.

    [00:27:15] In terms of saying what I don’t know and going after those things. Yeah, I think that’s probably one thing I am good at, but but let’s face it. No one has that shit together. Know we were all just on this spectrum of, of getting through life and, and that’s okay. I think that’s what makes it interesting.

    [00:27:38] Dr Matt Zakreski: It does. I mean, life without challenge would be boring and, you know, and, and this is an internal challenge that we get to wrestle with. And hopefully now that you’ve listened to this podcast, you understand yourself a little bit better and you can give yourself a little bit more great. And say, I don’t have to know everything.

    [00:27:59] My contributions have value because I showed up today, you know, because I had an interest in this and I raised my hand or went to a conference or put some words on a paper or some, some paint on a canvas because doing the doers, get things done and. Khan and those contributions have value. They have meaning and they are, they are proof.

    [00:28:27] You are not an imposter regardless of what your brain tells you. I, because I’m saying this to you out loud universe, I’m loudly shouting to you that you belong here. The things you were doing are great. And the doubt you feel. Doesn’t undo any of the wonderful things you are doing or have already done

    [00:28:56] Sophia Elliott: wonderful words to end the podcast on.

    [00:28:59] Thank you so much. And thank you for your very kind words about the podcast as well. And for being absolutely one of our favorite guests and an excellent international speaker giftedness, can I just say doing a great.

    [00:29:18] Thank you for everyone that was listening. I’m sure you’ve probably got as much out of this conversation as I have today, and it’s given you some strategies and some things to think about, and we look forward to talking to you again, Dr. Matt, and and thank you imposter syndrome, right? We’re all going to go out and kick its butt who

    [00:29:35] Dr Matt Zakreski: gets

    [00:29:35] Sophia Elliott: by, right?

    [00:29:36] Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for being here and we’ll let you go to bed now.

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