Consistently successful careers stem from consistent personal decisions


Consistency is an important part of any career. It's not just doing good work all the time. It goes beyond what quality your work is to what quality of person you are. Being consistent is letting people know they can rely on you, and it's following through on what you say you'll do because that's what people do who care.

My problem with consistency is that I am a tornado, and I have found my tornado nature is both wildly inconsistent and difficult to change, which makes me think that co-dependency on a stable (read: low-maintenance) boyfriend might help. So I think I need an ENTP. So, I'm only dating those from now on. (Yes, the 25-year-old is an ENTP. Personality type is ageless.)

But my inconsistency is no small problem. Here's an example. I agree to new photos of me for a publication even though I have done tons of photo sessions already and have a gazillion expensively-lit ten-people-making-it-happen photos of myself.

Not only do I say yes, but I agree to do it the day before I leave for the SXSW conference. And I tell the magazine I'll get a fake tan. Because it's a summer issue. I've never gotten a fake tan and it seemed like maybe it would be fun. Maybe I'd end up looking like I'm in an artsy Versace ad where everyone has big attitudes and big tans.

But at the tanning place I got extremely nervous that maybe tanning places in Madison, Wisconsin suck. I realized that a messed-up tan was no problem for the photographer. He can Photoshop it. But I cannot Photoshop myself at SXSW.

But I already said I'd get the tan. And I am trying to be more consistent. Following through on getting a fake tan would be the consistent thing to do. After all, I didn't have a commitment to just the photographer, but also to Jan. Jan is the spray-tan lady.

I tried to be trusting but once I got my clothes off, there was no more trust: It occurred to me that I would have this tan for my sex romp with the 25-year-old, and I imagined all the ways that spray tanning could be done incompetently. I ask Jan a barrage of questions: Should people with freckles get a tan? Is that too much too wrong in a Michael Jackson sort of way? Does the spray stuff pool in my belly button? And what about under my breasts? Will that part be white?

Jan charges me double because of the questions. I pay, because maybe it's true that you get what you pay for.

Four hours later I do the photos and we end right at five because it's family dinner night, even though my ex and I are not the family you're thinking of. And I worry a lot about being consistently there for family stuff, because, remember, you never have a problem at work that you don't have at home as well.

I get home to dinner and scoop up my three year old and kiss him. He says, “Something smells like dirty socks,” and starts taking off his socks.

I panic. I ask the Ex if I smell. He says, “I don't want to smell you.” He is working on setting boundaries. Then he says, “Do you have a fake tan?”

Crap. I can't ask the ex if I look too stupid to go to SXSW. Bad boundaries. And the risk of smelling like fake tan seems very bad in the 25-year-old department. So I take a shower.

Then I call my friend Sharon who is a hairdresser. I am a very inconsistent friend to Sharon and do terrible-friend things to her like only call when I need something. Fortunately she's a hair stylist to the rich and famous in LA so her knowledge of how to groom to perfection complements my own lack thereof, and I call her a lot.

She says buy Nioxin. And she says, “You are doing too much.” Sharon consistently gives me good advice.

I tuck the kids into bed. After I sing to them so that they will have childhood memories of me being a consistent parent. I take one more shower for good measure. I answer email, return phone calls and IM the 25-year-old to see if he is feeling excited to see me which takes a while since he's not the type to say so without prodding.

Then it's 1am and it's time to pack. I pack almost every week to go on business trips. But SXSW is not a normal business trip. It is prom for bloggers. And I'm not sure what to wear. So I pack everything. I take two suitcases for five days.

I speed on the highway and I make the flight.

But my suitcases don't.

I tell myself, fine. I'll get them on the next flight. I tell myself, be calm. Consistent people do not come undone over late baggage.

I get on my plane to Dallas. I sleep. I land. I get on my Blackberry and answer emails because consistent people do not let emails pile up when they travel. I call into the office. I find my gate, and I do not miss my connecting flight.

Then I go to the bathroom. I stand in the stall while I finish an email. I sit on the toilet and I am amazed at how dark I am. I pull down my pants to my ankles to inspect my legs. The airport bathroom light is not flattering, but is likely true. And the truth is that people will know this tan is fake.

I tell myself not to panic. I can have sex with the lights out. But there's no way SXSW is happening in the dark. Crap.

So far, I have somehow maintained consistency.

Then I leave my Blackberry in the bathroom stall. And I fly to Austin before I notice.

I fall behind on emails. I miss a phone call at 10:15. I also miss the 10:45. Two more people who think I'm unreliable. And I miss my radio show. My guests call in and listeners tune in, and I'm not there. And neither is my consistency.

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  1. Carol Saha
    Carol Saha says:

    Wow. That made my heart beat fast like a suspenseful movie and now I feel bad for you. You, the brazen careerist, who I totally admire and want to know. My online role model and online imaginary friend. I’m sorry. I wish I could fix that for you and make it all better. I hope you got your luggage (I guess you did or you would have mentioned it) and the rest of the week goes much better for you.

  2. Alexandra Levit
    Alexandra Levit says:

    I think you need an INTJ – that’s what I am and we’ve always gotten along well. :) Hope SWSX went well other than the radio show mishap. I’ve been hearing so much about it I felt like I was there!



  3. ayelet
    ayelet says:

    dear penelope, i love your blog! i think the point is to be “consistently in control” and “consistent with your long-term goals”. meaning, i think you should have felt justified NOT getting the tan and/or NOT doing the photo shoot because the whole rigamarole interfered with your remaining in control, and possibly also with your long term goals. you have to be comfortable turning people down, though i am sure you know this already.
    p.s. chanel makes AWESOME powder bronzers that can be applied with fluffy brushes on face and body, and NOT fakey looking

  4. JB
    JB says:

    This reminds me of something my high school English teacher told me: “Consistency is the hobgoblin of mediocre minds.” At least this is how I remember it.

    I am very consistent right now and I’m not doing great work. Consistent can be seen as boring, middle of the road, risk-averse. You’ll never be the brazen careerist you strive to be if you strive for consistency.

    Embrace who you are, not who you think you need to be.

    • Mark Wolstencraft Shelly
      Mark Wolstencraft Shelly says:

      The actual quote says “foolish consistency . . .” and means that being consistent with a poor earlier decision is foolish. Not at all what’s going on here.

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      I agree with JB: Embrace who you are, not who you think you need to be. Try to please yourself first by doing what you know is important: work/kids, kids/work, free time/work/kids, free time/kids/work. Leave the self-centered 25 yr old alone–remember, he is 25 YEARS OLD. You deserve better.

  5. Laura
    Laura says:

    You do need the 25 year old/INTP. I am married to one (I am ENFJ). I overcommit myself all the time and he is like a rock. And helps me say no to things.

  6. JB
    JB says:

    Okay, here’s the real quote:

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

    R.W. Emerson, Self-Reliance

    There are many others but my new favorite is from Oscar Wilde: Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

    The last thing you are is unimaginative.

      • Shefaly
        Shefaly says:


        I quote from a post I wrote on Trust recently (

        “Consistency, said Oscar Wilde, is "the last refuge of the unimaginative". Cited out of context, this sounds like a criticism of (consistency). But, in the article titled "The Relation of Dress to Art" in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885, Wilde continued to write, "but have we not all seen, and most of us admired, a picture from his hand of exquisite English girls strolling by an opal sea in the fantastic dresses of Japan? Has not Tite Street been thrilled with the tidings that the models of Chelsea were posing to the master, in peplums, for pastels? Whatever comes from Mr Whistler's brush is far too perfect in its loveliness to stand or fall by any intellectual dogmas on art, even by his own: for Beauty is justified of all her children, and cares nothing for explanations: but it is impossible to look through any collection of modern pictures in London, from Burlington House to the Grosvenor Gallery, without feeling that the professional model is ruining painting and reducing it to a condition of mere pose and pastiche ".”

        In Whistler’s case, consistency was a good idea but the growing use of professional models in the art of the period? That is what Wilde was criticising.

        The finer point he is making is this – to know when to be consistent is important. Consistency cannot surpass relevance as a requirement in any context.


    • Lane Ellen
      Lane Ellen says:

      See, that’s one of the things that got me – that a spray-tan person charges you more to pay for questions. That should have been a sign of a nonprofessional place to begin with.

      I really think pale is coming back. At least I hope.

      That sucks, PT. Hope the rest of your sxsw experience was better.

      I love my INFP partner. I’m an ENTJ, and it’s wonderful having someone balanced enough to let me see where I’m going overboard, yet intuitive enough to know how far to push me, in anything.

  7. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    PS In my experience, fake tan always looks fake. I’m an Australian living in England. In summer, I see all these English people walking around with BRIGHT ORANGE skin and lame excuses like “oh I sat out in the backyard on Saturday and caught some sun”. Even Tony Blair did it. Yeah right!

  8. Angie
    Angie says:

    At least you’re flexible. If a mag had asked me to get a fake tan, I would’ve refused.

    Some readers seem to equate consistency with repetition. Consistency is about more than that, and I think it’s possible — preferable even, as you imply — to be consistent and still be dynamic and creative. We should all aim for consistency in the areas that support our values and goals and maybe ignore the rest of it (we can’t cultivate every characteristic as a strength, after all).

  9. Laura
    Laura says:

    Yo should know that the most important commitment is with yourself, and never should do what you (truly) knows you dont want to.

    I really like your blog :)

  10. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    This is why I embrace my paleness. How pale am I? So pale that English and Scandinavian people say, “You’re very pale.” Sunblock is my friend.

  11. LPC
    LPC says:

    Penelope I have been reading your stuff since 2000. I lost track of you for a while, and said an actual hoo-yah! when I found you again. You are my absolute favorite. So here’s a thought. It’s possible that the series of events you describe here in your latest post is largely an artifact of aging. When I was your age (10 years ago give or take)I had to completely readjust my approach to, well, everything. I too had always charged through life, most successes due to a sheer excess of adrenalin, stamina, and some quick thinking. In your 40’s degradation of certain skills sets in. Like hearing. Seeing. Walking fast. Remembering things. It threw me for a wild loop at the time. I have now compensated as best I can. But the process involved a certain restatement of self. I can’t know if what I have described is what is affecting you. But just in case, here’s a note in a bottle from someone 10 years ahead of you. All the best.

    • Shefaly
      Shefaly says:


      In pictorial depictions of Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva, the god of destruction, is often depicted as blue. He consumed the poison that emerged from the churning of the divine oceans, to save others the bother and the poison is held responsible for the colour of his skin. Takes from the belief that the peacock has a blue-green neck because it eats snakes which are poisonous. Make of that what you will :-)

  12. cheryl
    cheryl says:

    penelope, i’ve been reading your blog for a long time now, and i just have to say: you are a fantastic writer. whether your posts make me laugh, inspire me, piss me off, or make me sad, they surely never bore me. thanks for that.

  13. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “And she says, "You are doing too much." Sharon consistently gives me good advice.”
    I always thought this to be true and second it.
    The link for your radio show above is given as – http://http// which is incorrect (too many http ‘s). Also is the page for your archived shows. In order to listen live the URL is . I think a link on your sidebar is a good idea to promote your show.

  14. Steve Y.
    Steve Y. says:

    You are a courageous writer. You put your neuroses out there for the world to see. Initially I was going to use the word “unafraid” but thought better. There are clearly risks in posting the way you do. You could NEVER be employed by a large corporation (a speaker or consultant, maybe). As they say about artists, you are being true to your craft, which I think is writing and not career advice. Keep it up.

  15. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    Hope you get to relax sometime. I have always thought your inconsistency was one of your attributes. Predictability may not be a virtue in your field. The breadth of your approach and experiences can make you more productive, more valuable and more learned. Besides what is wrong with being consistently inconsistent. The ability to handle a variety of problems or in the case of the recent trip calamities, is improved by having dealt in the past with a larger pool of circumstances. This is why you were able to duck and cover with the loss of the phone and the missed calls. Intriguing post. Don’t obsess.

  16. Andy Santamaria
    Andy Santamaria says:


    That sounds crazy! I don’t know how you manage to get things done in a whirlwind of tasks! This is going to sound weird but I really like reading about someone else who’s living the way I dream of. I mean the part about your business life! HAHA! I’m not married yet so I don’t know what that’s like.

    I really hope my career is just as hectic and productive as yours, one day!

    take care, see you in a few weeks!

  17. Sara
    Sara says:

    I have a hard time believing an ENTP would be low maintenance. I’m a ENTJ and I couldn’t survive without my INTJ – He remembers to do all the things I meant to –

  18. eastcoaster
    eastcoaster says:

    The spas that apply tanner to you in cream form (no spraying) seem to do a good job. When I get home, I’ll try to look up the name of the cream they used. I paid a certain amount to have the esthetician apply exfoliant & apply the self tanning cream (felt like I was getting a massage; she was very thorough). They gave me a tube of the self tanner when I left.

  19. Susan MTH - soon J
    Susan MTH - soon J says:

    This is only a little off topic, but I really wanted to say how I admire that you really do seem to learn from and follow your own advice –

    “And I worry a lot about being consistently there for family stuff, because, remember, you never have a problem at work that you don't have at home as well.”

    – I remember reading the post that relates to this. It’s great that you do, too. Too often lessons are learned only temporarily. As for trying to achieve consistency, I agree with many of the previous posts. It’s overrated; being yourself is as consistent as it gets.

  20. ChicagoRose
    ChicagoRose says:

    I’m not sure if you are really aiming for consistency but aiming for honoring your commitments instead. As others have noted, consistency can be overrated. Certainly there is nothing glorious in being consistently wrong. However, keeping one’s commitments shows others you are dependable and trustworthy, in fact that you are worthy of their respect and trust. But you also tell yourself that you are worthy of respect when you see yourself “consistently” following through on your commitments. The important thing is to not make so many commitments that you can’t possibly meet them all. Figure out what’s important, then draw a line. Or as your ex might say, set some boundaries. And if all else fails, it’s often ok to go back to someone and say, “I’m sorry, I overcommitted and can’t [fill in the blank.] What can I do to fix this? Sometimes you’ll just have to suck it up but often deadlines or obligations are more flexible than we think.

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      I agree with your comment ChicagoRose and wish I spent some more time developing mine which was “”And she says, "You are doing too much." Sharon consistently gives me good advice.”
      I always thought this to be true and second it.”

      Things come up unexpectedly and it always takes longer to complete stuff than originally anticipated. I think it’s necessary to allow some extra time within reason to consistently meet commitments. Even with the best of intentions and setting of priorities commitments are not met so it becomes necessary to acknowledge it and do your level best to ‘fix’ it. We are all human and to quote ChicagoRose above “…deadlines or obligations are more flexible than we think.”
      Also on the fake tan – forget consistency and trust your gut instinct after having some time to think through and evaluate your previous commitment. Go back to the person to whom you made the commitment and explain your apprehension and why you would rather not do it.
      I’m hoping you got your luggage and Blackberry if you haven’t gotten them back by now.

  21. Leo Sigil
    Leo Sigil says:

    To harp on Emerson:

    As stated, the quote ostensibly refers to staying consistent with an unwise decision. Knowing that the fake tan was a poor decision, P-Trunk pushed forward, accepting it and the potential consequences, in the name of consistency. Ergo, a foolish consistency. The quote is applicable.

    That little indulgence of my OCD aside, I agree with Angie.

  22. Leo Sigil
    Leo Sigil says:

    In any case, I think this entire post is possibly (though arguably not P-Trunk’s intention) an illustration that neatly packaged little maxims like the one titling this blog entry aren’t necessarily right on the money. Too many factors contribute to the success or failure of every venture. I think she was more on to something with her post on resiliency.

  23. NYC Memories
    NYC Memories says:

    I agree with you on this one Penelope, because consistency in my opinion is about respect – respecting your promises and respect others by doing what you promised you will do with/for them.

  24. Jamie Varon
    Jamie Varon says:

    Penelope – I absolutely admire your commitment to self-improvement. It’s refreshing. Yet, I feel like you know yourself so well that using someone else’s methods towards consistency will get you where you were the other day: phone by the toilet and you on a plane missing all your important calls.

    Because, in my opinion, when someone attempts to change their ways with someone else’s methods, it becomes an uphill battle. For example, the tanning issue. For you, not getting the tan wouldn’t have been an admittance of you being inconsistent, because you had a valid reason to deny the tan.

    Being consistent, for you, does not mean sacrificing your intuition. I think it’s about consistently trusting your intuition, not consistently doing everything you promise to do. That will drive you crazy.

    Just a thought. ;-)

  25. Jennifer Ellis
    Jennifer Ellis says:

    I really like this post, though it should be disheartening. I assume that consistency is something that I’m going to grow into, but it sounds like thats not the case -which reinforces that successful people are crazy in the same way I am, which is comforting (which is why I like th post.)

    Thanks for reiterating that “you never have a problem at work that you don't have at home as well.” I’ve heard you say it before, but it never resonated with me until now.

  26. david rees
    david rees says:

    Allow me to go to the place that, for the sake of civility, I rarely go.

    So much of the world – especially the world we are raised in (public education) is run not by NT/NF types, but by SJ archetypes.

    You have been programmed – we all have been – to believe that “normal” is what comes naturally for your average ISTJ school teacher. Of course school teachers come in all types, but the culture of the profession is decidedly SJ.

    Trying to make an ENTP (myself) or an INTP (my brother) or an ENTJ like you conform to the life modes of the SJ is ineffective and damaging.

    Without turning this into a long rambling diatribe, let me just say that the power of consistency is probably the greatest power of the SJ types. They live consistently and expect others to do so as well and to the degree that you do not, you are a defective person in their eyes.

    It took me until nearly age 30 to realize that I was never going to run my life off of a big “to do” list and I was never going to file my taxes early to “get them out of the way” or do any of the other ridiculous things that I really do not give a damn about.

    I don’t go around giving them hell for their lack of strategic analysis or their inability to intuit complex social dynamics. I don’t belittle them for their laughable powers of abstraction or the fact that they can’t model complex systems in their head.

    Not everyone can do everything but somehow “consistency” is assumed to be inherently useful and the mark of a “together” person. When was this settled and why was I not invited to the debates?

  27. vanessa
    vanessa says:

    I was at your SXSW panel yesterday. I actually came to see you, and not because of the panel topic – though I did find it interesting (well I discovered what an angel investor is and John was great eye candy)…

    I didn’t notice any obvious orange tan and I thought you came across very calm and composed. Which leads one to assume that you can also be great at faking consistency.

  28. Greenman2001
    Greenman2001 says:

    I’m endlessly amazed at how difficult it is for you to accomplish simple tasks — creating a disaster out of scheduling an exterminator, getting to the airport on time, keeping track of your cell phone, showing up for your own radio show.

    I understand that you make your money giving talks — $15,000 a pop, right? Your blog is fun to read, and anything that gets your name out there, even Britney-like escapades, can only help you get your fee. And I’m coming to realize that in your world, with your personal and business staffs and enough income to fix most mistakes (that darn marriage being one notable exception — they’re not generally susceptible to improvement through the infusion of capital — but you were young), it’s not really necessary for you to be competent at anything except publicizing yourself and giving a good talk. You make the money, the money fixes the problems, I get it (of course, ask your kids about this formula).

    But aren’t you tired of dealing with the wreckage that your incompetence creates in your own life? I get it that your income doesn’t suffer. But isn’t it simply draining to have to constantly put out these fires and squeeze your eyes shut and hope that people don’t hold any of this stuff against you? And you think this post is about consistency?

    Your friend tells you, “you’re doing too much.” That’s not an explanation: it’s an excuse. You are failing to do simple, basic tasks well. You like doing too much; doing less isn’t a choice you’re going to make. Your challenge, among many, many challenges, is to find a way to do simple, basic tasks well while doing “too much,” whatever that is.

    I don’t know whether you should get a tan or not. It seems like a stupid idea to me, but it’s a judgement call either way, and you just know it’s going to make a funny story to write about in the blog, regale investors with, and charm your silly 25-year-old lay with (I’m a cougar! I’m a disaster! Now watch me cry!). But showing up for your own radio show? Keeping ahold of your cell phone? Figuring this stuff out just isn’t hard. “I’m a tornado:” give me a break.

  29. eliz
    eliz says:

    I love how you blog about what doesn’t work for you as well as what does. Your misses are even more instructive sometimes. You haven’t created some successful business persona for your readers, which is what this experiment in consistency felt like. It’s not you. Besides, whoever said to always be consistent? I can’t see Gen Y valuing advice like that.

  30. Ron Graham
    Ron Graham says:

    Paying too close attention to the Myers-Briggs test is a recipe for shipwreck and disaster, not control.

    Even some psychologists look at it as part astrology. What happens if your 25-year-old is close to one of the borders? What if *you* are not fully parceled into INTP?

    Your advice and examples are so normally spot-on, so I’m going to tell myself that on this you’re only kidding. :-)

  31. Diana
    Diana says:

    Hi Penelope! I just found your blog a few weeks ago, and it’s definitely one of my favorites. I’ve been trolling through your articles at work. I’m at my first “real job” now and the advice you give is great! And I love your hilarious writing. I don’t usually leave comments, but your blogs make me want to join in.

  32. Sofia
    Sofia says:


    That was mean. I don’t know how you sleep at night. Don’t be jealous of Penelope because she’s charming and positive. You can learn from her! You’re already reading her blog.


  33. Alisa Bowman
    Alisa Bowman says:

    Reading your blog always makes me feel better about myself. That’s a good thing for me, but perhaps not so good for you. I need to face something difficult today, and this gave me the laugh I need to just gut myself through it. Since you helped me, I’ll offer something in return regarding consistency, which is something I’m fairly good at. Your friend is right: you are doing too much. You’ll be a lot happier if you can learn to just say, “fuck it” and let scrape some of the stuff on your plate into the dog bowl. Example: You could have told the magazine to shove that fake tan up their rears, that you are famous and if their hair and makeup person can’t make you look nice and summer glowy, they should get a new one. Plus there are plenty of pale people in the summers these days, given that half of the population is getting their noses removed due to skin cancer. Pale is the new tan.

    But it gave you a great blog, so maybe it was worth losing your phone.

  34. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Dear Penelope,

    Have you ever been tested for ADD?

    I am not saying this in a negative way; I have ADD, and I did not know it until I was 47. I just thought I was creative, and kind of incompetent because that’s the message I got in childhood!

    ADD is great…it’s what makes people creative, out-of-the-box thinkers and risk takers. (But don’t tell employers you have it; most shriek in horror!)

    In my case, the forgetting things, scheduling conflicts, lateness, etc., etc., all of the above in your post, finally got to me.

    I didn’t want to lose my creative side by admitting I had ADD and dealing with it, and that didn’t happen when I finally understood how to manage it and became more accepting of myself. Life is just a little more calm and peaceful now, as well as creative and fun.

    Just a thought from an evil Boomer who enjoys your blog.

  35. Rich
    Rich says:

    @ greenman (I’m a cougar! I’m a disaster! Now watch me cry!) that is priceless!

    Penelope, I don’t think this blog has much to do with careers anymore but you are a great writer and I really enjoy reading your stuff. Keep it coming!

  36. eastcoaster
    eastcoaster says:

    I think the sunless tanning cream was Phytoderm – or something close to that!

    I love how you reveal what women have to do and think about behind the scenes. People wonder why some of us working mothers are so stressed but the expectations placed upon us are so outrageous.

  37. C
    C says:

    Barbara – what resources can you recommend for dealing with adult ADD? I’d love to find some practical advice! I’ve skimmed Driven to Distraction, which is a helpful resource for someone who isn’t familiar with ADD (and has no idea how to think about it positively instead of as an impairment). It was helpful, but I need the next step. I don’t want medication, just some suggestions for dealing with things like…lateness and losing things and all of those other minor things that get in my way. What should I read?

  38. Kingsley Tagbo - IT Career Boot Camp
    Kingsley Tagbo - IT Career Boot Camp says:

    Inconsistency is not really a bad trait. It can be a sign of a hidden quality or personal attribute.

    All you need to do is to understand it and turn it into a strength by using it creatively.

    One of my favorite books states that we often look at our personal patterns as weaknessess instead of strengths or try to change it so we can look more like our neighbors.

    For example, if you find yourself constantly changing careers, then instead of looking at yourself as a failure and trying to force yourself into a full-time position so you looke more like your successful neigbor, you can view your personal pattern of inconsistency as a strength and become a consultant. Consultants are always changing jobs and are even paid more money than full-time employees

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