When you get laid off in your 50s, the learning process never stops

It's back to my home office supplies and research materials.

It’s back to my home office supplies and research materials.

When you’re working for a temp agency, the language is very polite.

My primary contact left a voice message on my home phone an hour after quitting time Friday night. What with a post-work visit with my dear wife Karen just a couple blocks over to the Syracuse Irish Fest to compile photos and ideas for my community blog this week for Syracuse Public Media site waer.org, then a trip to PetSmart to restock with skunk odor de-stinker Nature’s Miracle and one last stop at the Chinese take out place …

I didn’t check the phone and hear the intermittent tone until Saturday morning. She left her cell number and said to call when I got the message.

I knew right away the news would not be good. The company for which I had worked eight hours a day Monday through Friday for the last eight weeks had “ended my assignment,” my agency confirmed.

I had simply not been a good technical fit. They liked me very much and would recommend me for further positions at other companies moving forward. The agency would look for other writing assignments for me.

Yes, it made me sad. I had tried so hard while feeling so, so much out of my comfort zone.

The first seven weeks I had been an acquisition specialist, assigned to that position with great hopes by my hiring supervisor after I’d been interviewed for a copywriter slot. She thought my deadline experience, Internet experience, phone experience, email experience, ability to juggle multiple tasks, all of the talents I grew daily in three decades as a newsroom journalist that came through during my enthusiastic interview, would make me a good fit for this extremely challenging job.

I worked diligently to adapt what made me an award-winner as a journalist to what was needed as an acquisition specialist. I failed. My take? It took me too long to completely master the computer platforms and company naming conventions. I was too ham-fisted and stubby-fingered with the keyboard and mouse. I was too slow in a job that had a numbers quota. And I swear gremlins resided in my database. It never felt like second nature. I had to think too long about every step in a job that required lightning speed. When I geared up to move faster, I became prone to error.

I knew and they knew it was not going to work. But instead of ending my assignment after seven weeks, they decided to give me a shot as a copywriter. I thought I was much, much better at that. Not good enough, though, they decided after five days, for their particular and quite specific business.

I am grateful for having had the experience (and the eight weeks of pay, of course).

They were the first company to give me a full-time shot after the big daily laid me and 100 other hard workers off on Jan. 31, 2013, after too many resumes and cover letters sent to count.

I learned more about Word and Excel in eight weeks there than I had in 29 years in the newsroom world of write-and-edit.

As hard as it is to reconcile, I’ve come to grip with the fact that there some things I’m not going to be able to master as quickly as I’d imagined, even some types of writing. And I’ve had to decide that’s OK.

Sure, I’d dreamed that I’d be a wizard for this company, get hired on, receive a raise and benefits and vacation time and happily toil a decade or more until I can retire.

Three months shy of my 57th birthday, something like that may still be out there for me. Or maybe I’ll several more intriguing and rewarding free-lance opportunities to go along with my film blogs for the syracusenewtimes.com and community blog for waer.org and feature stories and column for CNY the Good Life magazine.

Starting this morning I am looking again, dreaming again, scheming again.

If you have work for me or an idea for me, by all means feel comfortable enough to send me a message at markbialczak@gmail.com.

Oh, I must not forget to add that I will now too be back spending more time here on WordPress, for I realize I have missed reading too many folks with too much to say.

Thanks for reading my words and ideas, as always, and taking the time out of your life to have a conversation with me here. It means the world to me.

Have you ever had a long period of job searching, and if so, how did you approach it? Have you been let go from a position oh-so-politely, and if so, what was the wording and how did you take it? In this day and age, do you think there’s more chance of finding a 40-hour-a-week job or multiple free-lance jobs?

83 thoughts on “When you get laid off in your 50s, the learning process never stops

  1. I hadn’t seen this post, Mark – it popped up on the bottom of one of your recent posts. “Starting this morning I am looking again, dreaming again, scheming again.” I love that – looking, dreaming and . . . scheming – I think I’ve been lacking in the scheming area – gonna work on it πŸ˜‰

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  2. So sorry that this wasn’t meant to be, Mark. Just like a few others mentioned, you have not found your niche, the perfect fit, or the place you belong. I have had to adjust a bit, but hoping that you find one that is in your area of expertise, another reporting or journalism position. You would make an excellent teacher of those skills you learned over the years, meeting deadlines, editing, etc… Brainstorming for you… smiles and a hug, Robin

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  3. Sorry to hear it didn’t work out my friend. But you have such a fab attitude and can take away more knowledge of Excel and Word – and eight weeks of pay. If you can swing it on freelance, I say go for it! As there’s a difference between an hourly job and career. But seems as if over the past eight weeks you were able to do both. Something will be coming your way soon – my fingers are crossed for you!

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  4. The working world absolutely terrifies me! I have been out of ‘proper’ work for almost a decade! Sure, I’ve done the odd placement here and there, and dabbled in self- employment, but mainly I have been a full-time mother to my children. The thought of getting back out there in the ‘real’ working world sends me into a panic. I look at all my friends with pocketfuls of degrees and experience, and then there is me, degree-less and with very little experience! Yikes! *shudders* I guess, ultimately I am scared of rejection, but aren’t we all?

    When I was 16, I was sacked from a waitress job… I cried for a week! Haha.

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    • You now have the single most important job ever, Amanda. Don’t ever underestimate that! And, may I add, you also are one hell of a writer. You don’t need a stinking degree, in my humble opinion.

      Start writing your screenplay about life with the nuisance neighbors, evil U.N. trip to Thailand, hubby takes employ in foreign land, change the names to protect the innocent. Box office smash and you’re rich. Remember who told you so!!

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  5. Aww, I’m so sorry, Mark! But I think you’ll find something you like better anyway. In 2006, I had been a paralegal for 14 years, and had worked at a firm I hated for 2 of those years. I was hospitalized for over a week with MRSA and almost died, and also almost lost my leg. When I got out, I had a month of bed rest at home with a PICC line pumping antibiotics to my heart and a visit from the home nurse every day. When I went back to work, they refused to take me back until the infectious disease specialist wrote me a note saying I no longer had MRSA. Once you have it, it’s always in your blood, so he refused. But he did write a note saying I was safe to be working. Work refused to let me come back, and because I had been away for so long, I didn’t qualify for unemployment because they go by your last 8 weeks income, which I didn’t have. So to make a long story longer, I turned in over 80 resumes looking for a new job. But when they called that firm for references, they said I was a “bad risk”. (I had also missed work due to problems at my son’s new school associated with his autism.) I only found out I was being blackballed because I had an attorney friend of mine call them for a reference to see what they said. So I moved to a new city, and there was nothing here either. So that’s when I decided to become a wedding photographer. Since you already have an eye for photography, you might really consider that. You’d definitely have a great personality with the brides and especially up there, people aren’t so cheap with their weddings, so you could make decent money. If you’re interested, I can help you as far as knowing what to do, etc. And that could help you keep your schedule open for more of your own writing gigs. As far as that job, I think they’re weasels. The law firm where my older sister Michelle works, she’s the youngest person there! They recognize the value of years of experience versus youth and a new, shiny degree. I will keep you in my prayers. πŸ™‚

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    • Your unemployment situation was the worst, Rachel. Getting let go because of illness is illegal, no? And getting bad references because of Jeremy’s school issues regarding his autism caused you to miss time. And your lack of weeks needed for the state unemployment laws … awful, all of it. I hate to hear what you had to go through.

      I do love my writing, you are correct about that. I don’t know about wedding photography around here, but thanks for your belief in my talent and your kind offer of guidance. There are so many good ones in this market already. I will keep plugging away and looking, hard at both! πŸ™‚

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      • In Florida, it’s a “no fault” state, meaning they can fire you for anything and don’t need a reason.

        Email me if you ever want to think about photography. There’s a LOT of money to be made in the wedding industry. πŸ™‚ (And especially nice that you can set your own hours.)

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  6. I’m so sorry, Mark. It’s not easy to get laid off at any age. I admire your ability to clearly state what you found were not your strengths. That in itself says a lot about who you are. Secure enough not to pose. And that should mean something to a future employer.

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    • Thanks, Kay. Every day I went home and drew up my list of what I thought I needed to improve upon the most the next day. I started the morning going down the list with my trainer to make sure I had the fixes right. She liked the way I was digging in. Alas, sometimes that’s just not enough.

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  7. Hi mark, I will be glad to have you back more in the blogging world! But that is selfish. As so many have already commented there will be a better fit. (I like the shoe analogy). Having had employment for those weeks will surely count in your favour as you look for a better job. Many people in your shoes would just sit at home and feel sorry for themselves but you have tried something new and done your best. I admire that. Well done you.

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    • Rachel, my dear friend from over there, trying hard and being open to new ways to make sure the ends meet and the bread basket is full (metaphors mostly still, don’t fret) is one of my ways of looking at life. Thank you for appreciating that characteristic.

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    • Thank you, my friend. I ought to try out for a game show! Eight years ago my wife and I were in the audience for “The Price Is Right” behind contestant’s row, mucho camera time, but we did not get the call to “come on down” to join Bob Barker. Damn.

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      • I would have had to have made a loud point of it during the six hours spent on line, outside and inside the gates, where rumor and the folks who made a living waiting in line to get into “The Price Is Right” had it that associate producers were watching and listening to pick out the best contestants. I wrote a big piece about the experience for syracuse.com, but it doesn’t come up on my searches anymore. I think it was in 2005. Quite the night/morning/afternoon.

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      • Oh yeah, they’re definitely on the lookout for “good TV people”, even during dead time. That is advice that is always given out on my game show message board… always look alive at any audition you go to… before, during, and after (And the TPIR line is essentially their “audition”).

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  8. I wish I had a big bag of extra cash. I’d give it to you so you could write and not worry about the bills. Sorry to hear about this. I’ve been there, too. 4.5 years of temping and I finally landed a job in May. The work is insufferably dull but I feel LUCKY to have it. I was lucky to find a company willing to hire the elderly. Keep looking. There’ s something out there. The economy is improving (albeit, slowly). Keep the FAITH.

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  9. i’m sorry this happened to you mark, but i do truly believe there is a position you are more naturally suited to. i don’t think it has to do with age, smarts, talent, or anything else, other than not the right fit. like when i buy a beautiful pair of heel and they are a bit uncomfortable but i stretch them and tiptoe and try my best to make them work. sometimes i just have to say, they are not a good fit. i’ll keep my eyes and ears open and lucky for us, we’ll see more of you here. – i do think you will find it, my friend and when you do, they will be so lucky to have you )

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  10. I’m disappointed that the company made that decision, Mark. I know how hard it is to get back in the saddle. When I worked in radio, it seems I was looking for a new “opportunity” every 1 1/2 to 2 years. It was frustrating. The good news is there is a better job out there for you. I just know it. You have the right attitude and the willingness to take on new challenges. Best wishes to you, Mark.

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  11. Oh gosh, now the comment I left on your Elvis post sounds crass. Hadn’t read this one yet–my bad. But from the little I know of what you’re doing, I say you’re on the right track because you are able to enjoy and live your life. You’re doing what you enjoy. And somehow it’s always worked out financially (assumption on my part). Am sorry things didn’t go as you’d hoped and you can only take what I say with a grain of lovely fleur de sel, but stuff that happens happens and the stuff that isn’t supposed to work out doesn’t work out. Firmly believe–from my mere 43 years on this planet–that what’s meant to be is. Have spent plenty of time and energy pushing for projects that don’t come to find out later that they wouldn’t have been good experiences. Also have had the most marvelous work fall into my lap. Keep on doing what you do for sure. And hurrah for honest self-assessment. You’re a good man.

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    • Your other post comment did not sound crass at all, Liz, it sounded supportive and made me smile quite a bit. I mean, a love for words does not get shaped by this job or that job.

      I am very happy writing this blog, the film blog, the community blog and the magazine stories. And that continues. The rest I will figure out by keeping cool and investigating avenues. I have my supportive dear wife Karen and stepson Daryl and my supportive wonderful daughter Elisabeth and her boyfriend George, our happy little house, our enthusiastic if stinky beloved rescue mutt … so, yeah, OK I am when I take stock.

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  12. Oh no. I am so sorry, Mark, and I’m sure the last thing you want to hear is some hooey from me about one door closing, bleh bleh. But I kind of firmly believe that. The right thing is out there for you but may have to be created by you. With all of your talents and connections, something’s gotta give one of these days. The thing is to not take this personally which is hard to do, I know. It’s hard on the hiring end too, because you just can’t tell in the interview process whether the person is really the right fit or not. We’ve made mistakes in hiring which have left us with sleepless nights knowing that it wasn’t working and agonizing how to fix it. It has happened that the person isn’t working out because we hired them against our better judgment; because we really liked the person and hoped they’d be able to learn the job. When the day came that we were dreading, the day we had to tell her she wasn’t working out, she agreed. And so we mutually created a graceful exit plan for her including a generous “stay bonus” while we looked for a new person. On her last day, she hugged us and has stayed in touch. This weekend we saw her at a 5K race and she had just been hired somewhere new. YAY! I am hoping for a new door to open for you soon, Mark.

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  13. Mark: I am so sorry to hear about your employment travails. as another 50+ guy trying out a new gig after a long stint in one world, I can definitely sympathize with the weirdness and confusion you feel as you try your best to fit into the new job. I know how great a writer you are, having been a longtime reader. I’m hoping you land a better job soon!

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  14. My husband was let go from his job in 2008 and after YEARS of interviews and emailing resumes and daily searches, finally gave up on his graphic design job search and ignored his college degree and began assembling bikes at Walmart last year. So that was FIVE YEARS of looking (read: no income) and now he does a younger man’s job, coming home with aches and pains and zero insurance, zero 401K, no benefits. He had another interview today, dressed sharp in khakis, but it’s hard when you have gray in your beard. I also know what it’s like to work for temp agencies and then be dismissed a few months later. That’s happened several times to me. I’m sorry it’s a rough go for you. The economy sucks. You’d think you have so much experience, you’d be a shoo-in, but then again, you are ham-fisted, so…

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  15. I’m sorry about that Mark. Feeling good and confident and enjoying what you do has to count for at least as much as getting a steady pay check though, right? I’m keeping my fingers, legs and eyes crossed for you; and sending good thoughts and a prayer for you. πŸ™‚
    Diana xo

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  16. Lo siento, Mr. B! 😦 I am so impressed with several things here. First being, the effort you gave this assignment. You seemed to have tried very hard to learn and immerse yourself in something that was not your topic of expertise. I am also impressed yet not surprised, with your ability to turn this experience into a learning one. You have that ability to really look at the positive side in a not so positive situation. I feel confident that something else will come through that is more fitting and that you will be happy with it. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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    • There’s nothing to be gained by dwelling in the negative, Mrs. B. Feel the sting, judge steps taken, move onward. Thanks for your kind judgment and confidence in my actions and eventual outcome, my friend. πŸ™‚

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  17. Mark,
    As a 50+’er myself who had a recent stint interning in a marketing company, I feel the same way-The speed was a speed that I could not hit- there is no time to learn while at the job-there is no bad guy in this.
    My eyes were opened and I will not go to the next place without the skills I was lacking.
    We strive, we get better and stronger and we go at it again. I wish you well.

    Wayne

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    • I admire your attitude and ability to learn and adapt, Wayne. Indeed. Learning what you must work on is a valuable insight. Best of luck in your pursuits, sir. I sense your success will come soon.

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  18. Oh, Mark, my Heart really goes out to you! I KNOW what it means to start over again when you are in your 50’s. I am doing the same thing, and at times at such a loss. Where to begin and with what? Sending you HUGE (((HUGS))) wishing I could for real. Love Amy

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  19. There are many thousands of people in your shoes. Jobs are exported or that factory closes down or the company downsizes…The kids discontinue college, making the mtg pmt in jeopardy, loss of health insurance. And even if you find something, it’s no pension, no sick leave, no paid vacations, no med ins , too many hours so neglect family duties or too few hours on which to live. All for $8.50 an hour – take it or leave it. Millions of people are just a paycheck away from being homeless. Situation in this country very grim. The fed stats say 7% unemployment. That is a lie . More like 20%. In Miami if your are not Hispanic, AfroAmerican, Caribbean Black forget it. White guys don’t get hired. Let’s say high tech skill worth $50K for middle aged man/women- why pay that when they can hire a recent college grad to do the same thing for $20K ? But you know this. Having tried all the regular job hunt strategies nothing left but to use shoe leather, go downtown and walk the streets business to business, knock on the doors, personally appear, no matter what it is.

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  20. I don’t know what to say Mark. I’d tell you my own story but I don’t want to be that negative. All I know is that the only way to win is to keep a positive attitude and yet at the same time losing a job for reasons that you cannot change, has to be the most difficult thing to absorb. It is depressing and negative and leaves one feeling like a failure. And the very worst is when you know in your heart that you really were a failure – at that particular job. It can’t be helped with any kind of positive thinking, or rationalization or kindness.

    You are a good, kind, thoughtful, honest, hard-working knowledgeable man, Mark. Which does not mean you will ever be a ballerina, high wire artist, submarine captain, or many other jobs. When last I visited a headhunter, I was told that, here in Canada alone, there are now over 60,000 specific individual job categories. Mind boggling isn’t it? And I can assume that with 10 times the population, there would be even more in the US. So if we say there are even 1/3 more categories, that makes over 90,000 different, individual types of jobs.

    It is amazing how many jobs actually have overlap now – have in common the requirement of good, solid, techniques and knowledge of a particular area. Like writing. Good writing has become less and less attractive to those entering the workplace – they chase after corporate jobs and tech jobs. And it is very obvious when you or I read manuals or in-house publications, or reports or publicity releases. There is a great demand for those who can really communicate with their writing – get to the hearts of their readers with information or emotion or instructions. A skill very separate from being a subject matter specialist. And you are excellent at communication Mark.

    So, to make a long story short Mark, I find the best way to address a dearth of positions in your chosen field, is to find other fields that require your skills. It may sound untenable after years in one field, but I assure you that if you look around at any written material that you receive or come across, you will quickly see who needs your skills. Many companies now are very sensitive to their public image and if you offer them a way to improve their public presentation, you can increase your chances. The hard part will be selling your skills, so you’ll likely have to put together a package to sell yourself. For instance, you can take information distributed (whether by internet or on paper or in any other format) that is poorly done and rewrite it in a manner that communicates better. Then present your abilities to the company – show them how you can make the public more informed or better able to understand the company’s message.

    Sell yourself Mark. And you do that by considering yourself a “Brand” Think about the exemplary skills and abilities of the “Brand” of Mark. Build an awareness of your brand, For instance, you have unique ability to cross silos (specialized groups) and talk easily with many by building a common ground. A rare skill no doubt honed by your years in newpapers where you had to attract, retain and speak to readers of many types. That is but one pillar in your brand. Put together a composite of your strongest skills and market them. (You have a lot of rare skills, for instance you seem to be non-threatening to most. Which means they will let you get closer to them and allow them to be more open. You would be surprised at how serious a problem inter-silo communication is becoming a big problem for business. It costs them billions a year in lost potential profits and the clear cure is better communication and that is your forte. Another example of a brand characteristic, is that you are naturally curious – which allows you to investigate and understand the problems of others, even when you go into the situation with no specific situational knowledge.)

    You are skilled and good at what you do Mark. Just spread your net wider and see yourself in the light of your brand. Then sell your brand to a company that you have identified as needing your skills. Rest assured that you are needed in the many, many positions – you just have to show them why you are needed.. And you can do that: from what I have seen, the ability to sell yourself is an ability that you already have.

    I wish you the very best of oportunities Mark. You have the skills and abilties to succeed in the workplace of today – you just need to figure out where. πŸ™‚

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    • You are a ray of sunshine that knows how to shine into specific corners of the room, Paul.

      Thank you for this comment, which in several paragraphs, can serve as a primer for me the next several weeks or months.

      Smart man, you are, a man who could be teaching a college course in communication or working in the government employment office perhaps.

      Today, though, I am terrifically happy that you were reading markbialczak.com and ready to share your wisdom with me. Thank you, again.

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  21. Mark … You’ll find a better paying gig, and be able to use what you learned in those 8 weeks to do so. Unfortunately it seems that speed and quantity are the rule these days in many businesses, and the hell with quality. That sucks. Someone smarter than your former employers will gladly take your skills and attitude. Meanwhile, blog on!

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  22. Well, i cannot like this Mark. I’m sorry. I know you were so hopefull regarding this job. Kudos, mucho kudos to you for never letting any struggle show through on your blog. I admire that. Not that struggles are bad to share. But that you wrre giving your job respect and giving the chance you had full respect. Even though it may not have easy. That says a lot about your character. And your post here reflects solid and true ethics.

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  23. I have been the one to counsel managers on how to let people go…and I don’t sleep the nights after for those that weren’t without cause. Actually, sometimes, I still have issues with those cases too.

    Reason number whatever I am in the wrong profession: just because something is an option doesn’t mean you just do it, especially with no warning.

    I am so sorry you had this happen. 😦

    I would think given your experiences that freelance would be more attainable, but I don’t know. Sending out job mojo into the universe for you, my friend.

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  24. Ah Mark, I’m sorry- tho’ I guess one of the benefits of experience is that you learn more quickly when something just isn’t the right fit. With your talents and impressive credentials, I am confident there’s another opportunity out there which ‘feels’ and is far better..

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  25. I’m sorry about the news, Mark. All things happen for a reason, so maybe this is simply The Fates’ way of lining you up for your dream job. Hang in there, and just keep writing. πŸ™‚

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