Once an SLP always and only an SLP?: James Berges speaks about transitioning careers

Episode 92 April 12, 2022 00:32:17
Once an SLP always and only an SLP?: James Berges speaks about transitioning careers
The Missing Link for SLPs
Once an SLP always and only an SLP?: James Berges speaks about transitioning careers

Apr 12 2022 | 00:32:17


Show Notes

In this episode, James Berges speaks candidly about his doubts in grad school about being a clinical SLP for his entire career. As it turns out, he wasn’t alone! Learn how James ultimately faced and overcame his fears to transition from clinical work into creating content to help other SLPs explore their own career transitions.

In this conversation with James you'll hear about many practical online resources, for both new grads and experienced SLPs alike, to explore and learn if and how you may transition careers at some point in time and make the most of your SLP skills and education in your chosen career.

Visit FreshSLP.com/podcast for this episode's show notes, a full audio transcript and more great resources at the intersection of grad school and a successful SLP career.
Not a substitute for a formal SLP education or medical advice for patients/caregivers.
Fresh SLP is in no way affiliated with or representing any university.

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Episode Transcript

The Missing Link for SLPs Podcast Full Transcript Mattie Murrey 00:03 Welcome to The Missing Link for SLPs Podcast. Have you ever wished you could go back and tell your younger self a way to do something better, or something that you’ve learned, or, gosh, just those words of wisdom that you would have loved to have known when you first started? That's what this series is all about. I am interviewing guests, and we reflect back on their words of wisdom, and what they didn't learn in grad school. And you'll be surprised by each one of these episodes. So, sit back, listen, and enjoy. Hello, and welcome to this episode of the Missing Link for SLPs podcast. I am here with somebody that I’m really looking forward to connecting with today, James Berges. Welcome. James Berges 00:51 Hi, Mattie. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to talk to you. Mattie Murrey 00:55 The reason I'm excited to have you is because I love conversations that take what we think outside of the box. And you run a website, and you have an approach to what you didn't learn in grad school, that is going to be really eye opening and really refreshing to open up people's minds, and think, ‘Hey, maybe I'm not alone, and maybe I can transition to this’. So, will you tell us a little bit about you and your website, and your mission? James Berges 01:25 Absolutely. So, well, thanks again for having me on. And to start off, yeah, my name is James. I am an SLP who made this website called SLPtransitions.com. And the name “transition” can go a couple different ways. It can mean transitioning into entrepreneurship, or into marketing, or design, or all of these other career paths that we didn't consider that can actually complement our SLP skills, and not diminish them. So, long story short, SLP Transitions’ mission is to help SLPs who are either A) really burnt out on the field, and they've listened to your other podcast episodes, Mattie, I know you have a lot of resources about burnout. Mattie Murrey 02:12 Mhm. James Berges 02:13 But they've decided, ‘Hey, I'm done crying in my car. I want to try something else’ – to make a joke about what ASHA put in there. I know they rescinded that – but still funny. Mattie Murrey 2:23 It was still out there and said. James Berges 2:25 It was. So, I'm just trying to provide a resource for people who are considering leaving the field to adjacent positions without having to go back to school, ideally, because we've incurred enough time and debt going for this degree, and we can talk about the psychological factors of transitioning later. Mattie Murrey 2:46 That sounds excellent. Yes, I think you're right. There are people who, they’re in their degree, and they don't want to go backwards with more education and feel like they're going back and starting anew. There is a need for SLPs to transition within our careers, and outside of our careers. And so, it’s great that you offer a website. How did you come up with that idea? How did you get into this area of alternative careers for SLPs? James Berges 03:15 Yeah, good question. Well, it's sort of two parts. One, is my personal journey, which I won't tell you my whole life story, but I was kind of always the kid who had what you call FOMO, fear of missing out. But also, I see it as a strength of being a scanner, meaning I have multiple interests. So, I was never the person in grad school who was straight out of college saying, “SLP is the one thing I want to do for sure. That's like, everything I love”, even though I did love psychology, linguistics, and communication, and connecting with people. That's what drew me to the field. But once I was in grad school, honestly, I was already starting to have some inner doubts about do I want to do clinical work for the rest of my life. Can I work? I knew there was a lot of flexibility, right? You can work in schools, medical settings, private practice. So, I was willing to stick it out and try these different things, but I knew when I kept having these feelings of just burnout, I guess you could say, being in the school, I started to look around, what else can you do with this degree? And I guess I wasn't alone, because I found a Facebook group called SLP Alternatives and Job Transitions. Mattie Murrey 04:38 Mhm. James Berges 04:48 And this was, I think, a couple years ago. And at that time, the Facebook group had over 10,000 members. Now, I can't take credit for that Facebook group. I want to give credit to an amazing SLP who went into User Experience Research, so UX research. Those are people working in tech, and she helps design products with research. Her name is Bethany Riebock. So, shout out to Bethany! But for one reason or another, I think she got busy, and shut that group down. But, where there's a will there's a way… Mattie Murrey 05:16 Right. James Berges 05:16 … and someone else made a new Facebook group. So, now there's another Facebook group that I also didn't start, and that one is up to 4,000 members, I think. And there's just all these conversations about what else can we do with our degree? Maybe I want to get into entrepreneurship. Or maybe I want to get into medical sales. Maybe I want to get into – behind the scenes working in healthcare marketing. There was all these answers, but Facebook is disorganized. So, everything got lost in the Facebook feed. Mattie Murrey 05:51 Right. James Berges 05:51 And so, I posted in the group. I said, “Would you all find it helpful if I created a website that curated all these stories of successful transition stories of people who have made the leap outside beyond their degree?” So, 100 likes and comments later, everyone said “Yes, please. Like, curate these stories”. I said, “Okay”. So, I mocked up the website pretty quick. And I started interviewing people who successfully made that transition. And then writing my own articles as well about mindset shifts, and then practical career guides. And it's just in its infancy, but I have so much content planned for it, and a lot more stories coming up, so. Mattie Murrey 06:39 You sound like me and my websites. I have so many things planned for it, and it’s just – I just can write and create, and it's fun. I love the conversations that you have had, and I found you on Facebook. And then I met with Mai Ling Chan, and she mentioned your name, and I'm like, “Oh, I have him coming up on a podcast”. And she's – we talked about you for a little bit. Any time there, in my opinion, are honest and authentic conversations where people are able to be safe and support one another, it’s a good thing. And that's why I do this podcast. I work a lot in the mental wellness area in addition to speech pathology. James Berges 7:24 Mhm. Mattie Murrey 07:25 And people are hap- -- hmm, not happiest. People are – hmm, most –. Oh, what's the word I'm looking for? Content, when they feel they have choices. James Berges 7:39 Mhm. Mattie Murrey 7:39 Then they don't feel unhappy with all the things that are going wrong in their lives. They can look and say, “I have the power, the ability, to move, shift, change – my life, my career, wherever I want it to go”. And that's the beauty of what you're doing with your website, and your activity in the Facebook group. James Berges 07:58 Yeah, I appreciate that Mattie. And I appreciate your work that you're doing around mindset and mental health. Because at the end of the day, the mission of SLP Transitions is not to pull people away from speech pathology, because Lord knows, we need SLPs, right? Mattie Murrey 08:16 Mhm. James Berges 08:16 It's that there needs to be a safe space, like you said, or a judgment free zone for people who have decided, “You know what, I've tried tweaking my environment and tried different settings, and I'm just trying to find something else”. Mattie Murrey 08:35 Mhm. James Berges 08:35 And we're not going to judge you. We’re a supportive community. We're going to welcome you and give you resources. Because at the end of the day, it's not helpful to the field, or to your students, or your learners, your clients, if you're burnt out and you're not engaged. So, it's not – you're not really doing anyone a favor by staying in a career that you're burnt out on. Or, maybe you're not burnt out, you just want to do something different, because life is long, and you want to try something else. Mattie Murrey 09:02 Well said. Can you share with us a story, or two, of somebody that you have known that has transitioned successfully out of our field? James Berges 09:13 Sure. So, the first one that comes to mind is Bethany Riebock, who I have mentioned, who started the original Facebook group, and her story, which I've written about on the website. You can also find articles she's written on medium.com. She was working as a healthcare SLP, or a medical SLP, and she noticed that the electronic medical record systems that they were working with were clunky and poorly designed. And she just felt frustrated with all the different processes that didn't have to do with direct client care, right? She, and like many us, really loved the client facing part of it, and helping people, but she just kept seeing these process problems within the healthcare system that she would write them down. And I don't want to completely – you know, I'm kind of going off memory here, so I don't remember exactly her inspiration, but it was something along the lines of she was frustrated with the system in health care, and she decided, ‘You know what? What if I go and research how to make a better designed health care system, or EMR system’. So, she went back. She did go to a coding boot camp called Tradecraft. I don't think they're around any more, actually, but there's similar boot camps like that, that you can go to instead. And she did UX research, which is basically just researching how we can make products more user friendly. Putting the human back into the design because, at the end of the day, it's humans using these EMRs instead of – unfortunately, a lot of them are designed for insurance companies, but that's a whole nother issue! Mattie Murrey 11:05 Another podcast. James Berges 11:06 That's another podcast. So, anyways, she went through that bootcamp, and now she's working in Silicon Valley, and she's making – she's very open on social media – she said, “I'm making significantly more money than I was as an SLP, and I get to use creativity”. But the best part is still using those SLP skills where she's – instead of assessing someone, she's asking them questions while they use the product, and using those active listening skills that you use as an SLP. Mattie Murrey 11:41 So, instead of seeing our SLP skills as the box which we have to maintain and stay in, using our SLP skills as a launching pad to follow those opportunities, like she did, where she wanted to improve upon something… James Berges 11:58 Exactly, yeah. Mattie Murrey 11:58 … and developing those. Go ahead. James Berges 12:03 No, yeah. I was just following your thoughts. But it gets me excited just to think about our skills. A lot of people in the group say, “Well, I don't know what else to do, because I feel like my skills aren't relevant”. But our skills are incredibly relevant to so many fields. I mean, obviously, soft skills of communication, which is the number one skill Google says they hire for, not programming. And organization skills. I mean, how many moving parts and schedule tetris, and all these things we have to deal with on a daily basis. Dealing with different kinds of people, translating jargon – or not jargon, but industry specific SLP terms for parent-friendly language… Mattie Murrey 12:49 Mhm. James Berges 12:49 … that goes with content writing. That goes with editing. That goes with designing products, and making things more accessible. So, there's just so much you can do, especially if you add an extra skill with it. Yeah. Mattie Murrey 13:05 It belongs to those who are brave enough to step into it, right? James Berges 13:08 Yeah, yeah. And the future is changing fast. So, it's like, stay adaptable. Mattie Murrey 13:14 Mhm. It is. James Berges 13:15 Yeah. Mattie Murrey 13.15 I seldom talk about my coaching on the podcast, and I do vision boarding with my coaching. Where it's not cutting pictures out of magazines, or anything else like that, it's with the post it note system, Big Sky. And it's amazing when people start thinking where they want to go with everything, not just their career, but their relationships, their finances, their spirituality, their travel, their whole entire life. The SLP realm has very little to do with who they are, and where they want to go. And sometimes, we give what we do too much credit, and it's good to expand and recognize the other parts of us. Like Bethany did, and was able to find and build upon her skills as an SLP. James Berges 14:06 Yeah. Mattie Murrey 14:06 What do you find is something that SLPs, when they're in – coming to visit you on your website, or they’re in the Facebook groups, what kind of questions do they ask themselves? Or what kind of things do they say? Is there a common theme? James Berges 14:20 There are, yeah. And there's a couple ways this goes. So, the big picture questions are psychological, I would say, in nature. Which are, “I'm just overwhelmed with where to start”. There's questions of imposter syndrome. “I don't think I have the skills to do anything else”. Or, “I've done this for so long. I just can't imagine doing anything else”. More statements than questions, but still probing the universe for answers there. And so, the way I feel, is like I kind of recast these questions back to people. Sort of – and I know, Mattie, in coaching, right, like you don't give people the answers, because that's prescriptive, I would assume. You ask them questions to help them uncover what they want to do. Because it's not – everyone's different. So, they have to come to the realization themselves. But, of course, there's certain questions that yield better benefits. So, one question I ask people is to – if you're completely stuck, start by reflecting on your source of dissatisfaction in the career. So, take stock of what parts of the job you like, and you don't like. Because one person might love coaching, and the client interaction. And then, there's a whole group of alternative careers for introverts where they're like “I don't want to talk to anyone. I don't want to be animated and talk about Disney for six hours straight. I can't do it anymore”. Which is fine, but that's that self awareness. Mattie Murrey 16:00 Right. James Berges 16:00 Start there. So, you can say, “Oh, okay, I like the research part of it. I like learning about neurology. And I like… “, right? Some people even like writing reports better than the actual therapy. So, with such a multifaceted career, there was something that drew you to it. There's probably something you still like about it, even if you're considering transitioning, but write down everything you like, and you don't like. So, do that. Take stock of your values. Ask yourself what puts you in a flow state? What activities make you lose track of time? Because those are the ones that are going to make you feel engaged at work. Write it. Write it all down. I just say write it all down, because writing itself is a form of therapy. Get it out of your head so you can organize it. And so, those are like deep questions. Clarify your values. And then the more practical ones are, “Do I need a certain level of income? Do I want a level of flexibility at my work? Do I want a remote job? What am I craving more? Autonomy? Do I want more creativity? Do I want to make a social impact?” Like these are values you have to reflect on, and write down yourself. Because if you don't start with those, I think you're bound to just kind of do the shotgun approach… Mattie Murrey 17:20 Right. James Berges 17:20 … if you're burnt out, and you’re going to everything, and take whatever you can get. But you're ultimately going to end up back in square one, where you're like, “Oh, I don't really think this is a good fit either”. So, I always say start with that. And then you can get more into practical questions of asking, “Where do you find jobs, or remote jobs? What kind of skills do I need for certain jobs? And what skills do I already have that I can translate on my resume? How do I translate them on my resume to appeal to tech jobs, for instance?” So, there's so many parts. There's so many different questions that it’s overwhelming. But, at the end of the day, start with your values. Ask yourself those. And then, you can ask the other questions, which I'm going to write more guides on on the website, so. Mattie Murrey 18:14 You have some good guides already on the web site. You've got a very good start, and what you have there is very high – it’s very impactful. James Berges 18:23 I'm glad. Thank you. I mean, I tried to just write from the perspective of what I wish. Because I'm – to be honest, people may be wondering, “Well, what's your deal, James?” And I'm not completely out of the SLP world, but I'm almost. Like I'm keeping my license active. Mattie Murrey 18:42 Mhm. James Berges 18:42 Because one question, and this is another question you should ask yourself if you're afraid to make a leap is, “What's the worst that could happen? What's the worst that could happen if I try something, and it doesn't work?” Well, obviously, I'm saying that like, you could say, from a privileged position. I’m in California, and I have good health, and I don't have any dependents, and I don't have any debt because I paid my debt off. I have a cushion of savings. So, for me, it's a very personal choice, right? And everyone has different risk tolerance. But, for me, I did this exercise called fear setting, and that's from Tim Ferriss. Where instead of goal setting, you actively explore your fears. So, really going into those like, “Okay, let me really approach my anxiety. What is the worst that could happen?” And for me, it was always “It doesn't work out, but I'm going to keep my license active, and then I can always go back to my school job. Or I can always find a medical job. I mean, not a medical job, those are harder. But I could find – I can find an SLP job, right? There’s such a demand. Mattie Murrey 19:59 Mhm. James Berges 19:59 Unless I totally ruin it with this website, and people say “I don't want to hire you!” But I don't think that will happen. Mattie Murrey 20:05 No! No, it’s going to happen. What are the top resources? And I'm going to put it for your settings. Will you send me a link, and we'll put that in the show notes? James Berges 20:15 Yeah. Mattie Murrey 20:15 People, I’m sure, would love to explore that a little bit more. And tell me, what is one of your top resources for career exploration? James Berges 20:23 Sure. Well, I have – I'll give you a couple quick ones. So, 80,000 hours, dot – I think it's dot org. It's an organization that focuses on careers that have a high social impact. [80000hours.org] So, I know a lot of us SLPs, we're altruistic at heart. I mean, we want to help people, right? Mattie Murrey 20:46 Mhm. James Berges 20:46 So, this website is based out of Oxford, and they do these deep dives on how to do the most good with your career backed by science. Mattie Murrey 20:56 Wow! James Berges 20:56 Yeah, and it’s pretty cool. Yeah. So, they have quizzes on there, and they have career guides. And, actually, before I went to grad school, I saw the guide on clinical work. Mattie Murrey 21:12 Mhm. James Berges 21:12 And they actually don't advise people to always go into clinical work unless it's a really good personal fit. But if you're purely utilitarian, focusing on doing the most good as possible, they're saying you can have a higher impact from behind the scenes than just only direct clinical work. So, all that. All of those guides gave me confidence that like, “Okay, I'm not going to have to be an evil person if I leave SLP. I can still have a positive mark on the world with these more general skills besides clinical work”. Mattie Murrey 21:44 And stay true to your values. James Berges 21:47 Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Which is so important too, is staying true to your values. Like taking that exercise I mentioned earlier, and mapping out your values. But also finding something that is a good personal fit. Like I don't believe in only doing a job that's doing the most good… Mattie Murrey 22:08 Mhm. James Berges 22:08 … if you're going to feel horrible at it. So, make sure you like it. And on that note, I used to love personality tests, like Myers-Briggs, and all these things, What Color is Your Parachute? I read that book a while ago. But I would actually go away from that. I wouldn't advise taking personality quizzes and things like that. Because the thing is, your interests can change over time. Sure, you have a certain temperament. You might like more solitary activities, for instance, or be more extroverted. But I think passion is built, it's not found. So, passion is not hiding under a rock. This is me talking to my 18-year-old self. Don't just wait for passion. You can't just think about it and find it. You have to actively follow your curiosity and try things out. So, with that, to make – or to actually answer your question, I would say, talk to people. Join communities. Twitter was actually a huge resource for me to meet people in tech. And I actually landed a job through Twitter doing content marketing, and things like that. Job boards and Slack communities. So, I can list these. I'm going to list them on the website soon, but for whatever you're interested in, there's a Slack community for it. There's a website called The Daily Job Hunt. They're really good. They have career guides, they have quizzes, and just inspirational tips. And then ADPList. That one, I just found. And you can actually talk to people who are in marketing, content design, tech, and it's free. You can talk to them for 20 minutes. Just book a session, and ask them questions. So, do those informational interviews. Get out there. Try things. Don't just do what I did, and sit paralyzed in fear, reflecting. Like, think of what's the next step you can take. Mattie Murrey 24:12 So, you're touching a little bit on the psychology of transition. Would you like to talk about that more? James Berges 24:17 Yeah. I think that's what holds most people back. I mean, obviously, there's things that you can't help, but here's the biggest thing I see, the sunk cost fallacy. So, what that is, is we put so much time and energy and investment into our degrees, right? Two years of grad school. For me, it was three because I was coming from psychology, so I had to take leveling classes. Then externships, and then a CF, and then however long you've been working in this career. Mattie Murrey 24:49 Mhm. James Berges 24:49 That's a long time. So, it feels like, “What a waste. What am I going to do? What … ? It's a failure if I transition”. That's sort of the sentiment that I'm hearing on the Facebook group. But I want you to know that it's not a failure. That's just a psychological bias that holds us stuck in places we don't want to be stuck in, whether it's a career, or a relationship even, that's not going anywhere, and it's not good. We make rationalizations, “Well, I’ve been in it for so long”. But the ultimate sunk cost, to me, is staying in a career that you don't love for the rest of your life. So, that's, that's the ultimate sunk cost. We'd rather stick to what we have than try to get something better. That's just human psychology. But here's – I just want to share like three quick ways to deal with sunk cost fallacy. So, A) You've built amazing general soft skills already. So, it's not a complete sunk cost. You have skills already – communication, organization, managing clients and projects. B) If you add another skill, you actually stand out more than someone who wasn't an SLP. So, SLP wasn't a waste. It's a complementary skill. It makes you look interesting. When I interviewed for some tech jobs and content jobs, people would go, “Wow, that's so interesting. Like why… tell me about your journey from speech pathology, to content writing, to you made your own projects on the side?” It just shows more initiative, and it shows – I mean, you've completed a Master's degree. It shows you're smart anyways. So, realize that even though you've put all this time and money, it's you're going to be able to connect the dots looking backwards, as Steve Jobs would say. Mattie Murrey 26:40 I like that. James Berges 26:40 Yeah. Because it might not be obvious now how it all connects, but looking back, you'll be like, “Oh, yeah. SLP did help me in this way”. Mattie Murrey 26:48 Mhm. James Berges 26:48 So, sunk cost. And then, another factor SLPs face when transitioning is guilt. And guilt comes externally from others, from parents, from teachers, from the community. My mom said, “Oh, don't you love working with kids? How can you give that up?” Or, “Oh, but it's such a meaningful career. You're going to give all that up?” Or “You work so hard for it”. That comes from conversations. And then there's the internal guilt of, “Oh, I'm giving up on my students”. Or “I'm giving up on my clients”. And guilt is huge, and don't ignore it. Pay attention to it, but don't let it consume you. Because little Jimmy that you're seeing – like, I felt bad for abandoning one of my – I feel like I was abandoning students, but it's like I've already seen them for three years. What am I going to do? Follow them all the way to graduation? Ideally, yes. But it's not your job to make sure every single kid – you can't save everyone all the way through graduation. And there will be another SLP who can come in and help. They're not going to be completely lost without you, even if you have a beautiful connection with your clients, which I'm sure you do. But realize there will always be someone else to help. And it's like a treadmill, you can't always feel bad for the next person that you didn't help. Then the ultimate guilt is like living your life in a career where you feel guilty that you don't feel good when everyone's telling you, “Hey, don't you love your job?” And you smile, and you’re gritting your teeth, and you say, “Yeah, it's great”. And maybe it's true for a while, but you're starting to have these feelings of doubt, and you just don't want to feel guilty about telling people “I love it”. So, there's a different form of guilt. Because what the world needs is people who feel alive in the work, and not going to work because they feel guilty. So, I mean, that's – I feel like that sounds a little pessimistic, but the thing is, don't live your life feeling guilty. Mattie Murrey 29:03 It doesn't. It sounds – if we were to be inside people's heads, they're like, “Yeah, I love my job”, and they might love certain aspects of their job working with the children, being in an educational setting, being in a medical setting, wherever. But there's going to be aspects of the job that they don't like that is causing that dissonance inside. James Berges 29:37 Mhm. Mattie Murrey 29:37 And so, a mental – a healthy thing to say is ”I'm not stuck. I'm not caught, and here's what I can do”. James Berges 29:35 Yeah, I love that. Mattie Murrey 29:39 So, we're going to wrap this episode up. I'm going to bring you back. You've agreed to come back for a second, a part two. James Berges 29:41 Yeah, I’d be happy to. I just have so many things. I want to go off on tangents, but yeah, maybe we’ve got to do a part two. Mattie Murrey 29:48 I'm thinking, I do the show notes, and I'm thinking, man, I’m going to go back, and highlight, and go check out some of these websites myself. You are just a wealth of knowledge for transitioning, and a lot of things. So, thank you for coming on today. James Berges 30:03 Well, thank you, Mattie, I really appreciate it. It's fun to chat about this stuff, and especially in a world where it might feel taboo, but there's so many SLPs who are feeling kind of the same way or wanting to try some different things. So, don't feel like you're the only one out there. Yep. Mattie Murrey 30:21 Right. And the beauty of this podcast is I love discussing taboo subjects, and getting them out in the open, and unpacking them and then going from there. So, you represent that for me, and these conversations on acknowledging that in graduate school. We all think we're going to be great SLPs, and have a whole entire career, and sometimes it doesn't unroll that way. And sometimes, as we need and want to transition, it's nice to have that option and support. James Berges 30:56 Absolutely, yeah. There's always – you're never stuck. There's always a million different things you can do. Mattie Murrey 31:03 Excellent. And we will end on that note. Thank you. James Berges 31:06 Thank you so much. Mattie Murrey 31:15 I hope today's conversation has created some aha moments for you, and motivated you to become a better SLP, continuing to connect some of those missing links between what you know and how to use that knowledge. Thank you for downloading The Missing Link for SLP’s Podcast, and if you enjoyed the show, I'd love you to subscribe, rate it, and leave a short review. Also, please share an episode with a friend. Together, we can raise awareness and help more SLPs find and connect those missing links, and get the information needed to help them feel confident in their patient care every step of the way. Follow me on Instagram and join the Fresh SLP community on Facebook. Show Notes are always available. So, come learn more at freshslp.com Let's make those connections. You got this!

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