Nia Thomas [00:00:00]:
Hi, listeners. Welcome to year 2 of the Knowing Self, Knowing Others podcast where we discuss self aware leadership with thinkers from around the globe. Remember that in year 2, we’re going to be doing things a little differently. Our conversations are going to be more fluid, and we’re going to be exploring more topics to help us understand self aware leadership in practice. Our conversation’s going to be a little bit longer with episodes running for around 45 minutes, short enough to listen over lunch and long enough to keep you company on your commute. Our conversations are going to be weekly so all of the inspiring discussions I’m having with thinkers from around the globe can be shared with you more frequently. Join me on my learning journey as we Talk to today’s guest.

Nia Thomas [00:00:45]:
Listeners, I’m joined today by Anna Zenidis. Anna is an author, mindfulness teacher, personal coach, and committed free spirit. Following the end of Anna’s 30 year marriage, she embarked on a transformative journey of self discovery Through studying mindfulness and Buddhist psychology with some of the most respected teachers in the UK and Nepal, she discovered that true happiness comes from making peace with every aspect of ourselves. She believes that happiness is an inside job, and her mission is to help others lead happier, healthier, and more peaceful lives. Anna, welcome. It’s lovely to have you here.

Anna [00:01:23]:
Thank you for the invitation.

Nia Thomas [00:01:24]:
Anna, tell us a little bit about your journey. It’s taken quite a few twists and turns.

Anna [00:01:29]:
Yeah. It has. I think like everybody’s lives, it never goes to plan. So I think, For me, the biggest thing that happened was when I hit my fifties, and it’s the kind of time where Many of us think we’ve worked hard and should be the time to reap the benefits of all that hard work and to start Slow down and whatever it might be that we’ve had dreams for. But for me, it turned out to be everything just fell apart. My marriage ended after 30 years, actually. We were supposed to celebrate our 30th anniversary. I was made redundant from a career that I had worked very hard to establish And had to sell my home.

Anna [00:02:17]:
It was one of those things that even if you had thought it would happen, you’d think one of them, but all of it together.

Nia Thomas [00:02:23]:
Yeah. Certainly huge life events.

Anna [00:02:25]:
Yeah. So that made me I mean, I’ve always been a very introspective person. I’ve always been very, in some ways, alternative, free spirited, as I say. But once everything fell apart, I I finally saw that that was my opportunity.

Nia Thomas [00:02:45]:
And when 1 door closes or maybe when 3 doors close, another one opens. Mhmm. And as part of this, you have become very interested in mindfulness. So let’s talk about mindfulness. How does mindfulness practice really contribute to developing self awareness?

Anna [00:03:05]:
Yeah. I think What people don’t often catch when it comes to mindfulness, I think we we’re so swayed in Society to go for the shiny objects, and the shiny objects are the it helps me relapse, which I’m happy to discuss with anybody, but I’m not a 100% convinced that mindfulness actually makes you relax. So That’s quite a big big topic, but, really, the power of mindfulness is the introspection. It’s the Self inquiry, it’s the becoming to understand your internal world, your internal environment, what’s going on inside. Because Self awareness is is just that, really. It’s about knowing why you say certain things, why you Respond in a certain way. What is that link to? What is that triggering in you? It’s such a huge I mean, the the real benefit of mindfulness, if people want to go on the real journey, It’s it’s the journey of really going deep inside understanding, which is what my book is about. It’s it’s discovering What it is that has made you the way that you are today, and how is that impacting you In the way you experience life, how you interact with other people, your relationships, your working life, the whole works.

Anna [00:04:37]:
And without Self awareness. It’s almost like you’re just pulled along in life. You know? Life pulls you along because you’re not aware, And so you’re not in charge?

Nia Thomas [00:04:48]:
Quite interesting when you say that mindfulness isn’t just about that shiny relaxation and what you’re seeing all of the The TikTokers and and the YouTubers, what they are talking about, that there’s a different element to mindfulness that we can be using to explore our own thoughts, use feelings to really develop our self awareness. So how does that link with leadership? I know that you’ve got a in schools and education. If we think about mindfulness for self awareness for leadership in an education context, how did those pieces of the puzzles fit together.

Anna [00:05:24]:
Yeah. I was thinking about this, and I came up with one thing that I think is crucial, and I think it’s ego. And that is the biggest thing. When you’re in a position of power, which many leaders are or most leaders have some kind of power, Without self awareness, and I’ve seen it so many times, I have been in situations where I’ve worked with some High profile people in the education system, because I worked as a national adviser for a good few years. I think there was such a lot of ego. There’s so many egos in the education system anyway, as far as I’m concerned. You know? It’s a system built on ego. And if someone isn’t aware of how that The view of themselves is impacting everybody else.

Anna [00:06:21]:
I think that’s where the environment becomes toxic, And that’s why we have so many people walking out of jobs because of the the leadership not being Aware at all of their impact.

Nia Thomas [00:06:36]:
I had a conversation with Jackie Frost on this podcast, and she gave an example of a head teacher who she was working with, who’d walked her around the school and said that there were some problems in the school, and at no point did that head teacher say hello to anybody or acknowledge a teacher and acknowledge a child. And when Jackie pressed them on that, they had no awareness of that impact whatsoever. So interesting that you’re saying something similar.

Anna [00:07:01]:
Yeah. Because I remember when I was doing my teacher training many, many years ago, and the teacher that I was observing at the time just said to me I said, how do you do this every day? And she just said to me, I I play a part. It’s it’s not me. I come in, And I play my part. But the thing is, a lot of people play their part, but they forget to leave it at the door. Yeah.

Nia Thomas [00:07:28]:
Can you share any examples of leaders who have, successfully integrated into their leadership style and and have that impact them and improve their effectiveness.

Anna [00:07:40]:
That’s interesting, actually. No. I can’t. And let me explain why. I think A lot of times when you have a certain level of awareness, and I know certainly with me because I Could never pursue, full leadership responsibility because once I saw What was required, I wasn’t willing to do it, and it’s quite difficult to find And I’m gonna be very judgmental here. I think there’s a certain level of having to sell out to get there, But that’s that’s my personal view. In all the years, and I’ve done a lot of jobs and I’ve been around different countries, The ego just takes over on most people.

Nia Thomas [00:08:31]:
One of the findings that came out of my research was strategic level disconnect. The way that my, interviewees described it was that the the further away that you go from the operational end of the organization, the more detached You become and I wonder if that is has some similarities to what you’re saying.

Anna [00:08:51]:
I can kind of understand Having to become detached because you have to make certain decisions. But I think It’s because you start to believe the story you tell yourself about who you are because you’re in a leadership position. It all comes down to how we describe success in our society. So we will walk past somebody in the street who’s sweeping the pavement and won’t even take a second look, because in our society, we’ve learned that somebody that does a job like that has obviously not Had a very successful life, but then we might see somebody who’s working somewhere high up in a bank, for example, And assume that they’re successful. Or if I go back to the education system, It isn’t the best teachers that become head teachers. It isn’t the best leader that becomes a head teacher. It is who you know And what you’re willing to do to get there. That is exactly what my book is about.

Anna [00:10:01]:
I’m saying things that people won’t say openly About what is leadership, there is so much to leadership. When I talk about a leader, I would look at somebody like Nelson Mandela, for example, somebody even like Thich Nhat Hanh, who’s a she has a huge following. There is no need for ego with those people, nor was there it it is purely compassion. It’s purely wanting good for Others. Is it possible? It is, but I don’t know if it’s possible in our structures.

Nia Thomas [00:10:37]:
Anna, you’ve mentioned your book, And it’s something that I’d I’d really like to know more about. Tell us a bit more about your book.

Anna [00:10:45]:
Yeah. It’s a it’s called How Did I Get Here? And I think the the title didn’t come to me till quite a bit later. It’s it’s broken down into 3 parts. So it’s basically Taking the scenario or my scenario and many other people’s scenario of everything just going ticking along fine And, you know, very little awareness just ticking along from day to day, and then something happens, And it wakes you up to your life. And so the middle part is really exploring How we become conditioned to almost unconsciously live our lives. How does that happen, and when does that happen? So there’s a lot Science, lots of psychology in it, but there’s a Buddhist perspective to it. And then in the last part of the book, I give my steps that I use when I work with people, and one part of that is working on raising awareness. Because without awareness, There is no other step to go.

Anna [00:11:48]:
You you you need to wake up to your own self before you can move. That’s what the book is. I talk about the education system and what it does to children. I talk about being trapped into the need to To earn an income to survive, and what we do for that, like it or not, for many of us, We we end up having to make sacrifices and compromises so that we can survive. So I’m Delve into all of those and relationships, what we do for love, or what we perceive to be love. So I’m I’m hoping it’s gonna just get people to start to think about their own lives.

Nia Thomas [00:12:34]:
I think that definitely resonates, and and you you hear so many people talking about their life stories where they were just going along, following the river, following the flow, And then something catastrophic happened in their lives, whether it was the the a death of a child or a death of a parent or an illness themselves, and and something just turns your life side down. And maybe if we do have greater awareness when we are following that river, maybe it prepares us more for those big life events.

Anna [00:13:03]:
For me, it wasn’t just my own story that inspired me to write it. I spent a lot of time working with cancer patients, and A lot of that time was with cancer patients that had incurable cancer and with people that were coming towards the end of their lives. And it made me, you know, sit up and pay attention because I was seeing a very similar pattern. At the end of the day, However rubbish we might think how life was, most people in that situation will do anything, Anything for their lives. And I was just like, so if life is so amazing and we want to be alive, why Are we squandering so much of it? Why is it you reach 60 and you look back and you think, where did that all go? Where was I in all of that? And that’s, I think, what inspired me to make people go, let me think about what I’m doing in my life. If I’ve made some bad choices, brilliant. Let it go. Do something else.

Anna [00:14:11]:
Don’t keep going with it just because it’s something you said that you wanted to Do what what was expected of you or whatever it might be. So, yeah, I hope it does inspire people.

Nia Thomas [00:14:24]:
And maybe listeners, maybe you’re at a bit of a crossroads in your life as well. Get hold of Anna’s book, How Did I Get Here? Definitely worth a read. What specific mindfulness techniques or practices Can leaders or or anybody who is in the world of work employ to really enhance their self awareness and promote a positive work culture?

Anna [00:14:48]:
You’re running an organization, and you’ve got so many responsibilities and so many different things that you’ve need to be thinking about. I think one of the important things for us all to remember is self responsibility. I’m not That keen on us always relying on others to look after us. It’s also us taking care of ourselves. Yeah. Just simple things like take your break, simple things like the day’s ended, go home, why are you answering messages on a Sunday, All of those things. I remember one of my ex bosses used to say to me when I was traveling, because I travel a lot on the trains, and he’d say to me, oh, you can get lots of work done on the train. And so I might be going up to Manchester, so it’s a 3 hour journey or something, but I woulda left home, like, at 6 in the morning and going home at 10 at night.

Anna [00:15:47]:
So I just you say to him, No. The train is my time. Put some music on, have a coffee, and look out the window because you’re not gonna know at 10 o’clock at night that I’ve just got home, so I think it’s taking responsibility for ourselves. One of the other things that I always thought was very difficult was these conversations that we have in the workplace where you find somebody’s complaining and then you get Bagged along. Be aware of those dynamics in any organization. I think good leaders are Authentic. They they are approachable. They’re willing to listen.

Anna [00:16:32]:
But like I said before, that all means They don’t have such a close relationship with their ego if they’re completely run by their ego. They can’t come to that Position. So you asked about practice it, and I think for me, more than anything, it is taking some time out. It’s Switching off. It’s walking away, going out for your walk when you’re at work, or taking 5 minutes to just check-in with yourself, breathe, stop what you’re doing. I always find that if you Enjoy what you’re doing. You’re in a flow. So if you’re in a flow, then you’re generally working quite efficiently and happily.

Anna [00:17:22]:
But if it’s a stressful environment, so you get emails and they’re bombarding you all the time, Then maybe you you need to switch that off for a little while. I always think to myself when I was young, we didn’t have emails. So You finished to work I used to work for the Ministry of Defense when I was very, very young. And, you left the job at the end of the day, and that was it. You didn’t take it home with you.

Nia Thomas [00:17:47]:
A lot to be said for that.

Anna [00:17:48]:
Yeah. And I think that’s really, really important to think about taking your work. How far does your work Impact the rest of your life.

Nia Thomas [00:17:58]:
I used to have a manager, and he used to say we were very good at checking our emails on a Sunday night, But we were rubbish at going to the cinema on a Monday morning, and and that’s absolutely that. And self care is is something that we talk a lot about, but I think it’s it’s Probably lost its shine a little bit because everybody is throwing it around like confetti, really, but I think it we need to take the essence of of what we mean by self care And learn those things about ourselves. Is it that you have to stop and eat lunch? But, actually, do you need to sit and have your lunch quietly somewhere There isn’t in front of your screen and and those very simple things, but you need to learn those things about yourself. How does self awareness through mindfulness really influence decision making and and problem solving. You you’ve probably seen that in in an academic situation. How does that look?

Anna [00:18:52]:
So if we think about what mindfulness really is, and I think it’s really important that we have these discussions Because there is so many people out there talking about teaching mindfulness, practicing mindfulness, and it has become so commercialized that some people just think all I have to do is just sit and breathe. Well, we breathe anyway, you know, so why is that such a big Deal. If I gave myself as an example, I would say I spend at least 70% of my time in complete silence, And I may not communicate or be outside or with anybody for days. Now I’m not saying people should do that. I’m not saying that’s what people should do. But what I’m saying is that I can do that, and I know a lot of people that are in my community that do do that because it’s how we restore ourselves. And if you’re constantly in the world being stimulated, and this is what we see with children, that constant stimulation. Whereas when I was young, as an example, I might have just gone and sat on the grass with my friends and had a chat and chewed on the grass and, you know, not thought about what was on the grass.

Anna [00:20:13]:
You know? Whereas today, it’s the constant stimulation And the calm down, it’s like coming off drugs, and they just can’t come off it. And so for for me, the important thing with mindfulness Isn’t that, oh, you know what? We can have a little bit of time out and breathe a little bit, and the world is great, because then What happens when you’re back in the world? What’s really happened? Has there been any change whatsoever? And I think one of my teachers I once said, what what good is mindfulness if it’s only practiced on the cushion? And I think that’s the most important thing is You could sit all day umming and a ing on a cushion, but if it’s not having an impact in your life and those in your life, If, what good is it?

Nia Thomas [00:21:05]:
We often find ourselves talking about this, How we recharge our batteries, the stimulation, and we often come to the conversation about introverts and extroverts, and, of course, we’re we always move between the 2, but we so often come back to that conversation. Yeah. What are you finding in terms of introverts, extroverts, or Ambiverts or omni omnivert, I think, is the other term. How does that all fit together with mindfulness?

Anna [00:21:34]:
Okay. So I don’t really like labels. I think we over label everything. And coming from an education background, it’s very scary how we throw these labels out there with children at such young ages as well. And if somebody Was to meet me, they’d think I was quite extrovert because I could talk forever, and I can spark up conversations with random people in the streets, and I’m not nervous about it, but the problem with me is if I do that for a day, I need 2 or 3 days of being completely Away from it, I become completely overwhelmed by the end of the day. That is something that I’ve always known about myself, But it’s also meant that it’s made it difficult for other people to understand me. So put that into a work environment as an example. If you’re like that, it can become really, really difficult to to get by a day.

Anna [00:22:36]:
I mean, I used to struggle a lot when I was working in that kind of environment so I think it’s about knowing yourself. If you know yourself, Then you can do something to help yourself. You can ask for certain things, certain ways of working. For example, I go to the gym now, and I go, and I I’ve told them because at the beginning, it was a lot of people wanting to talk to me, and And now the the trainer’s got so used to me that he takes me into a corner and lays all my stuff out there and says you can do your bit here because he knows he can see that after a while, I get irritated. So I think it’s knowing yourself enough to ask for what it is that would make you a happier Person be it in the workplace, be it in your life. And I think mindfulness is about self discovery. That’s it. That’s as far as I’m concerned.

Anna [00:23:34]:
That’s what mindfulness is.

Nia Thomas [00:23:36]:
And it’s interesting. We often have this conversation about when we’re in the world of work, we have conversations about the Stuff that we do, but we very rarely have the conversation about how we want to do the stuff that we do. So I when you were talking about Your trainer, I thought, somebody who’s very switched on to how other people operate to be able to have worked out that that’s what you needed and was able give you space to do that, we’re we’re not great at doing that in the world of work, and I think it takes somebody who’s interested in self awareness or interested in leadership Psychology relationships in the world of work to be able to say, I really get on well with this person. I really work work very well with this individual, And I know that after two and a half hours in a meeting with me, they need to sit down and have some quiet time and some space because they need to reenergize.

Anna [00:24:26]:
Yeah. And I think it’s difficult for us women often as well to say what we want. And This is where I’ve always been a little bit, different and difficult for people to understand because I’ve I’ve always been the type of woman that It’s out there and says it. I’ve never been one of those. I just need to be really nice. And that’s been quite difficult for most people. But I look at a lot of women that do the, I need to be nice. And, no, you need to say what you need to say.

Anna [00:25:00]:
You’re entitled to it. I think for us women, there’s also that kind of need to understand that we’ve been, in certain ways, conditioned to think That our role is to be the caring one and the nice one and the soft one, and and that’s not the case. We need to know how to express ourselves honestly.

Nia Thomas [00:25:23]:
Yeah. I guess when we look at authenticity within leadership and confidence within leadership, We can do all of those things respectfully and with kindness, but it’s about having that confidence and and almost Being given the permission. Maybe as leaders, what we need to be doing is give people that space to to know that they are welcome to have that conversation You’ve talked about very busy working environments, and I can certainly imagine a school. You have people around you all at time, and there are children who need your support, and you are teaching, and you are busy. What are the potential barriers of incorporating a mindful practice Into your world of work or whether that’s in your into your leadership or into your organization as a whole.

Anna [00:26:09]:
The the thing for me is I’ve never struggled with the kids, And I’ve been in some very difficult schools because I’ve always been very attuned to what’s going on in my classroom. So for me, the the the problem was never what was going on in the classroom. It was the politics. The politics of school, The the leaderships, the egos that get thrown around are so off putting. I think a successful Teacher needs to be able to assess what’s going on around her or him, but also what’s going on with them at a given time. So, like, for example, a child is beginning to grate on you after a while. For me, if that was the case, it was always easier for me to just talk tell the child to step outside so that we can put that space. Give me a breather.

Anna [00:27:05]:
Give them a breather. So it’s it’s it’s having that awareness of going this needs to I need to stop Somewhere here, it needs to break now. Otherwise, what will happen is our break. Into a meeting at one of the schools I was in more The and the head head teacher said to me, oh, Anna, we need to know whether you’re valued for money. And I just Took one look at him, and I was just ready to go. My life has no value in sense of money. There’s no money value to my life. I mean, what a thing to say.

Anna [00:27:41]:
But then I realized this guy’s got no sense of sell. There was no sense of the words coming out and how that hits. And I think that’s another really important point is to learn The the words we speak when we speak them is how will they be received. So I say something because I wanna say it, But how will it be received? Okay. We don’t know how it will be received because we don’t know what the other person’s experience is. But We can generally judge that something that we’re saying is going to land in a specific way, And that’s really key to it, I think.

Nia Thomas [00:28:21]:
I tend to give the, analogy of a bouncing ball or playing catch. And if we think of the way that we throw a ball back and forth between us, if you swap that ball for behavior, what you throw out is gonna come back to you. So it and that is very helpful for people because all of a sudden, you have something very tangible, and you can See that behavior bouncing around the room. And if you’re somebody that lobs a ball, with wild abandon and doesn’t care how it lands, Then all of a sudden, you see if you change that ball to behavior, you’ve now suddenly got awareness. And it’s interesting you’re saying people are are not Always aware of the words that they throw out there.

Anna [00:29:00]:

Nia Thomas [00:29:00]:
And you don’t know how it’s gonna land, so maybe give it an entity. Give it a give it a call then.

Anna [00:29:06]:
If we if we put it into into the context that mindfulness originally was taken from Buddhism So when we talk about it from the Buddhist perspective, we agree or we commit to right speech, Right thought, right actions. We’re not saying the other person needs to think about their words and their actions and their thoughts. We’re saying we need to think about Our actions, our thoughts, and our words. And that’s exactly the same when we’re talking about mindfulness. When I say Something when I do something, am I doing it because I wanna show the other person up? I wanna tell them I’m more powerful? I’m the one that’s got the The power or am I saying it because I genuinely want good for this person? Yeah? And that’s Where the awareness is, are we even willing to accept when we say something not really genuine?

Nia Thomas [00:30:07]:
You talked about the center part of your book being very psychology focused and science focused. Tell us a bit about that psychology and science behind self awareness and self development and and self discovery.

Anna [00:30:22]:
Yeah. So what I’ve done is a lot of different research. Mainly, I come from the perspective of Science is not fact. Science is always for new information. We can go back 50 years and go, oh my god. I can’t believe that we actually believed smoking was good for you. Right. Yep.

Anna [00:30:45]:
Right? I oh, I can’t believe what is it that we used To eat stuff that we would eat back then that we wouldn’t even think of now, so we don’t even know what we’ll discover in 5 years’ time. But but our society is based on the idea that science is almost like replaced gods. You know? Science is the god. If a scientist says it, then it’s the truth. And what my part of that part of the book is is trying to Get people to see that, yes, we’ve made progress, but if we look at the the psychology that society has come to accept as true. As an example, I’ve kind of questioned all of it and Said, well, most of these scientists and these these psychologists and psychiatrists, 90% of them were white males. There was even the belief that black people had an inferior intellect, but it was widely believed for a long time. And I question that and say they had that hypothesis, and all they did was go out and try and prove it.

Anna [00:31:55]:
And this is what’s wrong with science. Unfortunately, that sort of science, that sort of evidence, that sort of psychology has determined How we are in our own lives, who we think we are. And none of it is true. None of it is right. You know? The color of someone’s Gina has absolutely nothing to do with with anything except that they probably do better in in hot environments because that’s why their bodies have adapted that way. That’s what you know? I’m Mediterranean. I’m slightly, you know, easier in the sun as an example. But we take it, and we think it means something.

Anna [00:32:35]:
It doesn’t mean anything bar that. And so I’ve, in the middle, really gone into why is it That women think they should be that way. Boys think they should be that way. It’s all of these labels, and it comes down to control. It’s how we are controlled and pushed to fit into little boxes to suit society.

Nia Thomas [00:32:59]:
Anna, if there were 3 key takeaways from your book and Your model and your views, what would be those 3 things?

Anna [00:33:09]:
I think the most important thing And it’s to never forget you’re human. A job does not define you. It’s not gonna go to the, other side with you, Wherever we end up going. Yep. And we do this a lot in Buddhism. We say, what do I leave behind? What what’s the impact I’ve made in this world. And if it is to accumulate lots of money and possessions for yourself, Then, okay. You know, how does that feel? Because at the end of the day, we’re all gonna meet that somewhere.

Anna [00:33:46]:
You know? So I think it is to remember to be human, to remember you are not your job, you are not any of those roles. And at the end of the day, the thing that counts the most is how we love each other, how we love ourselves, how we love each other. And I think that’s the most important thing. And, yeah, let go of that ego. You know? It’s just not worth it.

Nia Thomas [00:34:12]:
So that’s 2 things. What’s the third?

Anna [00:34:15]:
Take time to really discover who you are. Be honest about it, And step into yourself. If there’s things in your life that you’ve always known, almost known that you should be doing, What you don’t wanna do is come to the end of your life regret, and I saw that a lot with people living and coming to the end of their lives. None of them ever When I should’ve worked more, I should’ve earned more, I should’ve whatever. It was all to do with the the people in their lives.

Nia Thomas [00:34:48]:
Anna, thank you so much for those 3 messages to end our conversation, and and thank you for our interesting conversation that’s gone in in various directions and sometimes quite controversial, but that’s a a good place to be on a podcast because, hopefully, listeners, you’ll go away and and talk about this With your colleagues in your workplace, and hopefully make a better workplace. Anna, thank you so much for joining me. We will make sure that there are links in the show notes to your book and to your website. But for now, thank you so much for joining.

Anna [00:35:20]:
Thanks a lot for inviting

Nia Thomas [00:35:34]:
k? And remember to join me on my learning journey in next week’s episode so that we can develop more self aware leaders around the globe and generate kinder, more respectful, full and creative working relationships through reflection, recognition, and regulation. The Knowing Self, Knowing Others CAST is available on Goodpods, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Goodpods, Podchaser, Amazon Music, Podcast Index, Podcast


Looking forward to having you on my learning journey!



Nia is an expert leader who talks the talk and walks the walk.  She is an academically awarded thought leader in self-aware leadership and practices self-aware leadership every single day in her role as a Director in a Children’s Charity.

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