I’m a life coach, you’re a life coach: the rise of an unregulated industry | Life and style

In November 2020, Olivia* was prepared for her life to be reworked. She had simply stepped away from her lengthy profession in enterprise and paid $18,000 for a six-month program to change into a life coach. “It was an enormous resolution financially, but it surely felt proper,” she mentioned. “I wished to start out bringing the work I’d accomplished on myself to see if I might assist others.” This system, she believed, was the important thing to a profession that will be each profitable and emotionally satisfying.

All through her life, Olivia had explored her internal world by way of non secular retreats, remedy, and psychology books. However she’d been dismissive of life teaching, which she considered “bullshit” – till she heard about Brooke Castillo.

Castillo, a lean, blond Californian who lives in Austin, Texas, was as soon as a small-time self-help guru, the creator of self-published books with titles like, If I’m So Good, Why Can’t I Lose Weight? Over the previous handful of years, she’s change into the reigning queen of the world of life teaching, due to her savvy advertising and marketing strategies, fusion of latest age therapyspeak and girlboss rhetoric, and the parasocial relationship she cultivates with listeners to her in style podcast, the Life Coach Faculty (LCS). Castillo doesn’t merely coach individuals to enhance their lives. She’s constructed a multimillion-dollar enterprise by persuading her followers that they, too, can discover which means (and cash) by turning into life coaches.

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Olivia initially found Castillo by way of the Life Coach Faculty podcast, which recurrently ranks amongst iTunes’s high enterprise podcasts; its episodes have greater than 45 million downloads. In episodes with titles like Self-Picture and Why Change Is Exhausting, Castillo delivers agency however pleasant recommendation about boundaries, time administration, and emotional regulation. She is accessible and direct; she seems like a no-nonsense huge sister who needs one of the best for you.

Castillo tells listeners that their issues are usually not brought on by exterior circumstances – dangerous bosses, troublesome mothers-in-law – however reasonably their lack of ability to handle their very own ideas. She opens up about her personal struggles with weight and nervousness, and punctuates her anecdotes with a heat, trilling chuckle. “Once you work with a therapist, you’re speaking to somebody who doesn’t essentially share your points,” Olivia mentioned. “This felt extra like, ‘I’m in your aircraft, let’s determine this out collectively,’ which was very interesting.” She started to eagerly await new episodes, which drop each Thursday – Castillo hasn’t missed per week since she started her present in 2014. Olivia has gone again and listened to this system ranging from the very first episode, taking notes on notably revealing insights.

Like lots of Castillo’s listeners, Olivia was a profitable skilled middle-aged girl. And, like many, she discovered Castillo at a time when she felt an itching dissatisfaction along with her life. On her podcast, and in her persona, Castillo supplied the promise of one thing higher. She had realized to handle her thoughts and was rewarded with a satisfying life: a cheerful marriage, two teenage sons, a pristine residence and a thriving multimillion-dollar enterprise serving to different individuals self-actualize. Quickly, Olivia started contemplating quitting her job to change into a life coach, too.

Teaching is a completely unregulated business – there aren’t any oversight boards, no commonplace curricula, no codes of ethics; if I wished to hang around my shingle as a life coach tomorrow, nobody would cease me. Teaching is distinct from remedy, in that it tends to deal with serving to purposeful individuals enhance their lives, reasonably than treating individuals with scientific points – though these traces aren’t at all times clear.

Castillo, who has an air of effectivity and an undergraduate diploma in psychology, based the for-profit Life Coach Faculty in 2007; within the years since, she has impressed hundreds of individuals to enroll in an internet certification program that prices as a lot as a 12 months of faculty. In the event that they full this system efficiently, she proclaims them to be “licensed” life coaches. The certification is just not acknowledged by any outdoors authority, however Castillo likes to say that within the unruly world of teaching, her program is the gold commonplace, the “Yale of life teaching colleges”.

The Life Coach Faculty caters to the concept anybody who works onerous can construct a thriving profession as a life coach. Final 12 months, with extra individuals than ever anxious, indoors and on-line due to the pandemic, the corporate made $37m in gross income. As staff left their jobs in droves, searching for higher working circumstances and extra fulfilling careers, LCS skilled a report variety of aspiring life coaches. “Our enrollments went method up,” Castillo informed me. “Folks that had been on the fence about altering their lives, this was a superb catalyst for therefore lots of them.”

However the fast rise of Castillo and the Life Coach Faculty additionally raises questions on an unregulated business at a time when the demand for psychological well being companies is outpacing provide. Working within the murky realm of “empowerment”, the place private growth and monetary success blur collectively, LCS is definitely having a second; its income greater than quadrupled between 2017 and 2019. Is Castillo empowering her largely feminine consumer base with the instruments and help they want? Or promoting them an unattainable fantasy?


Castillo, now in her late 40s, wears her cropped blond hair swept to the aspect, her eyes ringed thickly with liner. She got here of age in California throughout the golden age of self-help. Beginning with Robin Norwood’s Girls Who Love Too A lot as a teen, she launched into a decades-long journey of self discovery. By day, she labored in a cubicle at Hewlett-Packard; in her spare time, she took lengthy walks and listened to non-public growth gurus’ cassettes on her Walkman.

From inspirational speaker Byron Katie, she realized to not blame outdoors circumstances for her issues. From channeler Esther Hicks, she realized in regards to the regulation of attraction (later popularized by way of the e-book and movie The Secret), and practiced vibrationally aligning herself with tens of tens of millions of {dollars}. From entrepreneurial guru Tony Robbins, she realized to say her private energy and rework her life from unusual to extraordinary.

Within the early 2000s, she noticed a trim life coach named Martha Beck on The Oprah Winfrey Present who specialised in working with over-scheduled girls. Impressed, Castillo enrolled in Beck’s three-day teaching certification program, then started advertising and marketing herself as a weight reduction coach. She visualized her excellent consumer: a lady standing in her kitchen at 2am, consuming out of the fridge. Castillo taught that shedding weight was extra about mindset than food regimen or train; if her purchasers received in contact with the feelings that spurred them to overeat, she informed them, the kilos would soften away. Different coaches started asking about her methodologies, and Castillo realized she might attain many extra individuals (and earn way more cash) by coaching teams of individuals to change into coaches themselves, reasonably than working one-on-one with purchasers.

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In 1995, the nonprofit Worldwide Teaching Federation (ICF), an unbiased credentialing physique, tried to impose a set of requirements and a code of ethics on the business, and met with middling success. Though tens of hundreds of coaches belong to the ICF, many extra – together with Castillo, who has dismissed the ICF as clubby and ineffective – don’t. As an alternative, she opted to create her personal certification program by way of the Life Coach Faculty, which she based along with her husband, Chris, in 2007. Initially, LCS trainings befell largely in particular person. A pair dozen college students would collect on the Vacation Inn Specific in El Dorado Hills, California, the place they spent per week studying Castillo’s signature product, the CTFAR Mannequin: all circumstances (C) are impartial; your ideas (T) create your emotions (F), which encourage your actions (A), which result in your outcomes (R). Course supplies promised CTFAR “can actually resolve any drawback”.

The mannequin was primarily a simplified model of cognitive behavioral remedy with some power-of-positive-thinking thrown in. Her college students discovered it transformative. “There have been very highly effective features to being in that room,” Kelly Hollingsworth, who enrolled in LCS coaching in 2015, informed me.

By 2017, Castillo had simplified her enterprise into two streams: for individuals who wished to be coached, there was Self Teaching Students, a $297 month-to-month membership program; for individuals who wished to change into coaches, there was Life Coach Faculty Certification, a six-month on-line course initially priced round $15,000. (The present course is three months lengthy and prices $21,000; by comparability, some ICF-certified packages price as little as $1,000, whereas tuition for Georgetown College’s skilled certificates in life teaching runs $13,995.)

Castillo was open along with her college students about how a lot she realized from her personal coaches, together with a controversial man named Frank Kern. Kern, a self-styled web advertising and marketing guru, was fined 1 / 4 of one million {dollars} by the Federal Commerce Fee in 2006 for making false guarantees. Round 2014, Castillo watched considered one of Kern’s free webinars, then enrolled in a $1,500 one-day brainstorming session. On the finish of this system, she signed up for a 12 months of one-on-one teaching for $36,000.

Kern’s recommendation turned out to be comparatively easy: create a membership program, and spend an unlimited amount of cash on Fb advertisements selling it. Castillo credit Kern for serving to LCS rework from a enterprise that earned $300,000 yearly into one which, only a few years later, introduced in $10m. In 2018, Castillo introduced a brand new purpose; by 2028, she vowed, the Life Coach Faculty could be a $100m-a-year enterprise.

It was a lofty however attainable ambition, contemplating that the teaching business was on the verge of its personal growth. One business group estimates that the variety of life coaches grew by a 3rd between 2015 and 2019. As everlasting jobs gave strategy to a gig-based economic system, teaching suited an anxious workforce scrambling to monetize aspect hustles and deal with burnout. It was like remedy, however extra outcome-based; it might even assist you to earn more money. Castillo’s methodology, with its mix of CBT, mindfulness and entrepreneurialism, all held along with the drive of her character, promised swift, tangible outcomes to those that put within the work. “My work could be very sensible, but it surely’s additionally magical,” Castillo informed me. “I don’t lose anybody, as a result of I’m sensible sufficient that I maintain the engineers and woo sufficient that I maintain the tarot card reader individuals.”

That mix of empowerment and self-improvement was notably interesting to skilled girls in center age. “Brooke is advertising and marketing to people who find themselves form of caught. New retirees who’re bored, empty nesters whose youngsters are going off to school, stay-at-home mothers who’re bored with child speak all day lengthy,” an LCS employees member informed me. “Individuals who need one thing extra.”

Brooke Castillo stands in front of the club doors.
Illustration: Maria Medem/The Guardian

Meg Blatt discovered teaching at a fraught time in her life, shortly after she’d misplaced her job and her mom, with whom she’d had a troublesome relationship. Listening to Castillo’s podcast made her really feel she might acquire a measure of management over her trauma.

Again and again, she heard Castillo current teaching as a dream profession. “You get to make a wonderful dwelling. A dwelling that could be very profitable and helps the planet,” Castillo mentioned in a single episode. “Serving to the psychological and emotional well being of the human species is a reward in and of itself, and on high of that, you receives a commission for it. It’s a wonderful factor, my mates.”

On the podcast, in Students supplies, and at LCS dwell occasions, Castillo confirmed off her college students who had gone from being coached to having profitable careers as life coaches. Blatt signed up for Students and shortly determined she wished to change into a coach, too. “You’re sitting in an enormous convention room in a beautiful Dallas resort, and there are coaches who’re multiple-million-dollar earners sitting throughout you, being referred to as on to speak about their experiences and the challenges they went by way of,” Blatt mentioned. “Like, this particular person was simply licensed two years in the past and so they simply hit their second seven-figure 12 months. And that risk felt actually tangible in that second.”

It was an attractive pitch: earn a dwelling by serving to different individuals whereas working from residence and making your individual schedule, with no coaching or credentials essential past the LCS course. These high-earning LCS coaches, with their neat hair, pristine rooms, tidy minds and seven-figure incomes, appeared like proof that it was achievable.

Olivia, the Castillo acolyte who took notes on each podcast, additionally enrolled in Self-Teaching Students, the place she studied modules on relationships and goal-setting. “Not solely did I do the workbooks and the homework and attend each name, however I additionally gave myself extra assignments,” Olivia informed me. “I’m form of insane that method.”

Enrolling in Students felt like being inducted into an unique membership of girls working to dwell their greatest lives. LCS despatched new college students a pen studded with Swarovski crystals. Castillo made common appearances on dwell calls and shared behind-the-scenes movies about her life. “Each month, you bought a brand new workbook within the mail. And when that e-book dropped, social media would explode,” one other pupil informed me.

When Olivia give up her job and enrolled within the LCS certification course, she justified the numerous price as an funding in her future enterprise teaching different skilled girls. She seemed ahead to the next stage of fabric and deep engagement with fellow coaches. “It’s the very subsequent deepest stage of the work that I’ve to supply the world,” Castillo has mentioned in regards to the certification program. “It’s my greatest work, it’s what I’m most happy with.”

However inside a month, Olivia was disillusioned. The coaching largely consisted of fabric that had already been lined in Castillo’s different packages. As soon as per week, Olivia and a dozen different college students had an hour of dialogue with an LCS coach, one of many firm’s many contract staff, who appeared harried and distracted.

Olivia diligently did her homework, making movies of herself teaching, however says she by no means obtained any suggestions. She took exams on LCS ideas, however wasn’t informed the outcomes. (Erika Royal, who left her function as a companion in Ft Lauderdale, Florida, regulation agency Holland & Knight to change into LCS’s CEO late final 12 months, informed me that this was an indication Olivia was doing nicely. “In case your submissions are simply high quality, you don’t get plenty of suggestions. You’re doing simply high quality. You simply proceed.”) College students had been discouraged from asking questions and informed to not e-mail their instructors.

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Castillo was hardly current in any respect. “She’s a part of the product – you’re shopping for her,” Olivia mentioned. “These different coaches step in for her, however, you recognize, I need her, I need the true factor.”

When Olivia complained to customer support, she was met with a reply straight out of the LCS playbook: the issue was simply in her ideas. “Which could be very handy, proper? As a result of it means they’ll by no means be flawed,” she mentioned. Sarah Foutz, who was a LCS contract worker for 2 years and has appeared on Castillo’s podcast, informed me she met with comparable pushback when she complained about being requested to work further hours with out extra pay, or receiving insufficient coaching: “They’d inform us to ask, ‘How is that this excellent for me?’” she mentioned. “It’s utilizing the instruments they educate us about altering our ideas to make a crappy state of affairs really feel higher. It retains us quiet.”

By the top of this system, Olivia was so fed up that she tried to fail the ultimate examination simply to see what would occur; she handed anyway. Castillo didn’t attend the digital commencement ceremony. “It felt like get em in, get em in, promote, promote promote. And as soon as they’re in, it’s like, – nicely, I gotta go promote to extra individuals,” Olivia mentioned. She’s working to develop a profession as a coach, however she’s now not capable of hearken to Castillo’s podcast. “I nonetheless harbor plenty of anger and disappointment.”


After finishing the certification program, most LCS graduates launch their very own teaching companies. Some have been resoundingly profitable. In 2016, LCS started giving out awards recognizing high-earning coaches. Since then, 122 individuals have reported incomes an annual revenue of at the least $100,000 from their teaching gigs, together with 12 “two comma” (that’s, million-dollar) coaches and one who makes greater than $10m.

Many others have a special consequence. Doreen* accomplished LCS certification in 2019. “Swiftly, in a 12 months, you’re a enterprise proprietor. It’s similar to – what webcam do I take advantage of? What enterprise insurance coverage do I get? And the way do I get out of my very own method?” Like Blatt and Olivia, Doreen had hoped to make teaching her full-time job, however as a substitute had “only a few” paid purchasers. “That’s the story of lots of people I’ve talked to. They’ve just a few paid purchasers, or they’ve none,” she informed me.

Throughout the world of LCS, there’s just one motive you’re not succeeding: your ideas. “Should you can’t make your a refund in your tuition, you’re doing it flawed. Interval,” Castillo has mentioned. Thankfully, there’s a easy resolution: extra teaching. Stacy Boehman, whose web site tagline is I assist life coaches earn cash, is considered one of various Castillo’s high-profile protegees who focus on teaching coaches. Boehman has a background in gross sales, spending years performing dwell infomercials in Walmarts and on army bases; she has additionally labored with multi-level advertising and marketing teams. Her web site is stocked with shiny headshots of former college students alongside their glowing endorsements: mentoring along with her during the last two and a half years has not solely helped me create a $500k enterprise but in addition my dream LIFE.

Each Doreen and Blatt enrolled in Boehman’s group teaching program. Blatt additionally signed up for six months of one-on-one teaching with considered one of Boehman’s deputies for $10,000. Generally her coach was like a cheerleader, reminding Blatt of how superior and succesful she was. Generally, she delivered a harder form of love: “You’re being an enormous helpless child,” she wrote in a single message. “HELPLESS HELPLESS HELPLESS.”

As she labored to construct her enterprise, Blatt sometimes chafed in opposition to the LCS worldview. Was it true that every one circumstances had been impartial, and that her ideas had been the supply of all her issues? What about her abusive childhood? What in regards to the time she’d been sexually assaulted – was that a impartial circumstance? However her coaches helped persuade her that it was precisely these sorts of ideas that had been undermining her progress. She enrolled in a $5,000 group-coaching program, and signed on for an additional six months of one-on-one teaching, hoping to get her thoughts straight.

Coaches are inspired to determine a distinct segment – say, medical doctors who need to drop some pounds, or feminine attorneys with imposter syndrome – and Blatt toyed with the thought of working with enterprise house owners who, like her, struggled with nervousness. “I had a panic dysfunction, and instruments from LCS actually did assist me, as a result of it’s mainly CBT,” she informed me. However she was additionally involved that nervousness, at the least in its scientific type, could be past the scope of teaching. When she introduced that objection to her coach, she says, “she was like, ‘No, it’s not an issue, it’s your considering about it as an issue that’s making it an issue.’”

Blatt chalked her preliminary objections as much as “limiting beliefs” and adopted her coach’s recommendation. She made movies and Fb posts about how she’d overcome her personal nervousness, and inspired individuals to join a free session name. “I used to be getting individuals who had been clearly disordered – nervousness, despair,” she mentioned. One among her first consultations was with a lady who mentioned that she was so anxious that she’d misplaced her residence, her job and her youngsters. She was dwelling in her cousin’s trailer, sleeping on the sofa, and couldn’t get her life collectively. Blatt couldn’t fairly convey herself to attempt to recruit her as a consumer; as a substitute, she really helpful that she speak to a psychological well being skilled. “It wasn’t simply her ideas that she wanted assist with, it was many different components,” Blatt mentioned. However when she informed her teaching neighborhood in regards to the seek the advice of, they critiqued her resolution. “The response was, you’re simply speaking your self out of being profitable. Your ideas are providing you with the results of not signing the consumer.”

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Different college students informed me they had been alarmed by the blurry boundaries round what points might be addressed with teaching. “I spotted about two months in that it was mainly unlicensed remedy,” Susan* informed me. On a number of events, when individuals wrote in to LCS about critical considerations – together with nervousness, consuming issues, and suicidal ideas – they had been inspired to join Students. “No referral to psychological well being assist, no suicide hotline, no nothing,” somebody conversant in LCS’s internal workings informed me. (Final 12 months, LCS started requiring college students search out and take a suicide prevention course.)

However regardless of the mounting dissatisfaction behind the scenes, LCS’s floor nonetheless appeared shiny; potential college students researching this system on-line informed me they discovered solely glowing testimonials. Employees members had been instructed to delete feedback that even hinted at criticism or negativity from the inner discussion board, Foutz informed me. “If it comes out of Brooke’s mouth, it’s true, it’s the regulation,” she mentioned. “I didn’t know there have been so many individuals who had issues, as a result of none of us wished to talk up.”

Then, final spring, after George Floyd was murdered and companies scrambled to show their antiracist bona fides, LCS was conspicuously silent. Castillo’s employees pushed her to challenge an announcement, or at the least a Fb publish, decrying racism and voicing help for his or her Black members, however she refused. As an alternative, on 1 June, LCS revealed a obscure Instagram textual content publish –“Love is at all times the reply” – that appeared like an try and sidestep the nationwide counting on race. It had the precise reverse impact. LCS social media was flooded with livid feedback; on the inner Slack channel, coaches referred to as Castillo out. The varsity was inundated with cancellations and calls for for refunds.

Because the backlash constructed, Castillo launched a video with a fellow coach, who can also be white. In it, Castillo wept as she talked about how troublesome the earlier days had been for her. Her eye make-up working, she admitted that she had dealt with the state of affairs poorly. One coach informed me she discovered it highly effective and weak. Many others criticized it for centering Castillo’s expertise. “I believed, holy mackerel. I don’t suppose I can affiliate myself along with her, along with her title,” one LCS-certified coach informed me.

However Castillo, who has since employed a private variety coach, says the expertise was on the entire a optimistic one, and catalyst for much-needed change. “Lots of people had been attacking me and had been fairly merciless,” she informed me. “However the fact of the matter is, it actually took that stage of aggressiveness to get my consideration. I used to be actually delusional and oblivious to that being a weak point and a development space for me.” In December, she stepped down as CEO and employed Royal, a Black girl, to fill the function. In her new function as CEO, Royal nonetheless typically appeared to be channeling Castillo. Once I requested her about her imaginative and prescient for the corporate over the subsequent 5 to 10 years, she paused. “You realize, our plan is to get to creating $100m a 12 months by 2028,” she mentioned finally. “So we’re simply steadily shifting in that path.” Self-Teaching Students now has a module on “Insights for Black Students” comprising three hours of movies on topics reminiscent of being Black in company America and “Black wealth and cash beliefs”. There is no such thing as a content material about racism aimed toward a white viewers.

The occasions of final spring and summer time pressured Blatt to confront her doubts about LCS and the Mannequin. “I used to be seeing my Black mates in a lot fucking ache, and all these teachings, that you can change your ideas to simply really feel a special method about that – it was simply bullshit,” she mentioned. She severed ties with the LCS neighborhood, which she now considers to be akin to a cult. “That they had actually damaged me down. Notably throughout the pandemic, my solely socializing was inside this neighborhood, and it had eroded my sense of self, my confidence.”


The occasions of final summer time appeared to have shaken one thing free at LCS. Final fall, Castillo introduced on her podcast that she and Chris had been getting a divorce. She shut down the LCS Slack channel, which had been one of many solely methods for the rank-and-file to speak along with her. She appeared much less engaged with the neighborhood. (“We get in huge bother if we speak to Brooke,” an worker informed me.) “Generally I ponder if she even is aware of that there’s a complete group of coaches who’re sad along with her,” Doreen mentioned.

LCS lately introduced a brand new coverage that limits some LCS perks – an internet coach database; invites to in-person occasions – to coaches deemed “energetic”. To qualify, licensed coaches should cross an annual check primarily based on content material from the podcast and earn at the least $10,000 a 12 months from their teaching enterprise. The brand new coverage sparked one other spherical of defections. “I bear in mind the minute I wished to alter it,” Castillo defined throughout our half-hour Zoom dialog, on a regular basis she might spare.

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She was in a room I acknowledged from her movies, understated and spotless and white. Her two Boston Terriers – Rocket and Rory – sprawled on the pale furnishings behind her. “We had so many individuals in our viewers who weren’t being profitable as life coaches, as a result of they weren’t making an attempt to earn cash as life coaches. And it introduced down the vibe of the people who had been making an attempt. As quickly as we modified it, that’s when our pupil physique grew to become way more profitable. There was prompt power. It was a gaggle that wished to be energetic, wished to make use of the instruments, wished to be engaged, wasn’t simply alongside for the journey.”

Once I introduced up the critiques I’d heard from greater than a dozen LCS college students and employees, Castillo appeared baffled, however her smile by no means left her face. “It seems like these persons are attributing their lack of success to the Life Coach Faculty, that we someway didn’t give them what they wanted,” she mentioned. “And so, yeah, I might see that they’d be upset at us, if that’s what they’re making that imply.”

In June, Hollingsworth filed a grievance with the Texas legal professional normal’s workplace in regards to the new “energetic coach” coverage, amongst different points. “The general public view of The Life Coach Faculty appears spectacular. LCS has created a extremely expert advertising and marketing machine that pulls new recruits in ever-increasing numbers,” she wrote. “However behind the paywall, LCS coaches know that there are issues. We additionally know that we’ve got been groomed to not say something about these issues, and even to suppose that they’re issues.”

Doreen informed me that, regardless of her frustration with LCS, she nonetheless has “plenty of loving emotions for Brooke Castillo”. She has hardly any paying purchasers in the mean time, however she’s nonetheless investing in additional teaching for herself. I requested her if she had earned her preliminary funding again. “No,” she informed me. “No by loads,” she mentioned. “As a result of I’m nonetheless spending cash.”

For a second, she sounded deflated. However then, as if some thought course of clicked into place in her thoughts, she perked again up. “I imply, I undoubtedly will make all of my a refund. It simply hasn’t occurred but. I sleep like a child at night time, as a result of I do know that I’m actually good. And I’m actually pushed. And I’ve a extremely, actually good thought. So I’ll undoubtedly make it again. Simply, I haven’t but.”

* Names have been modified

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