Do Your Goals Improve the Present?

Your goals might have started out well meaning and inspiring, but somewhere along the way they turned into taskmaster-like tyrants. Running your life, making you feel inadequate; giving you a persistent feeling that there’s always something “more” you could be doing.

So you start to wonder… maybe I don’t really need goals. Maybe goals are the problem. Maybe I just need to accept things the way they are, right now. Then you might think…

Maybe I should kill my goals.

I’ve thought a lot about this myself. I’ve gone back and forth from living completely goal-less, to being utterly goal-consumed, and everywhere in between. What I’ve come to find is this:

What matters isn’t achieving or not achieving goals. Goals within themselves are not good or bad. What matters the most is not achieving the perfect goals, but cultivating the perfect path.

“You know you’re on the perfect path when you wouldn’t change anything about it.”

Goals can be great tools to help you cultivate a perfect path, but they’re only effective inasmuch as they help you to experience an incredibly awesome present. If they don’t improve the present, they’re probably not very good goals.

I started thinking about this a lot on real paths, ones in the mountains and back country of where I live in Southern California. And I was inspired to shoot this short video on an incredibly beautiful path at Colby trail. (If you’re reading this in a feed reader or email, click here to view the video)

I’ve been thinking about this idea of cultivating the perfect path for a while now, and it’s really shifted the way I think about a lot of things. It’s caused me to…

  • Start exploring the beauty of the world instead of thinking that I need to do something to change it.
  • Realize the fastest way to change the world is often to look for the good already in it.
  • Choose goals that make me feel good right now, instead of sometime in the future.
  • Spend more time with my wife and my family.
  • Go on more hikes, read more books, and practice martial arts for the fun of it (not to achieve anything).
  • Be more playful.
  • Approach life with more curiosity and wonder.
  • Stop worrying about money and realize the amazing amount of abundance that exists without me having to create it.

And it’s not that I’ve killed all of my goals. I still have a lot of them. But if I don’t reach them, I don’t freak out. If I reach my benchmarks, I celebrate. But I also celebrate even when I don’t.

“Life is too short to do anything but celebrate all the time.”

Basically, I don’t need a reason to celebrate any more. When I have one, it’s just an unexpected bonus.

Sometimes my goals guide the path, sometimes my path guides the goals I choose, but it’s always about the path.

Probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that no matter what is influencing the other — the path influencing the goals, or the goals influencing the path — what matters ultimately is that I am enjoying the path.

And I know based on how I feel. When I feel great, when I wake up excited, when I have unexplained, spontaneous bursts of laughter… I am on the perfect path. When I am feeling sluggish, overwhelmed or stressed, it’s a signal that somehow I’ve gone a little off course. I need to retrace my steps and get back on my heart-centered path.

How I feel, my intuition and my internal compass are my guidance system. When I listen, they tell me when I am on course or not. Everything that directs me is found from within. Not without.

“It’s not about finding a path ‘out there,’ it’s about embracing the beautiful one always waiting inside of you. The best part is, you don’t need to create it. Start from your core, and take the first step.”

There is an incredible, delicious and exciting journey waiting inside of you. All you need to do is start exploring it. You don’t need to find it, you don’t need to follow anyone else’s path. As Joseph Campbell said “If there is a path, it’s not your path.” I think that’s true.

The only real satisfying path is the one you uncover in yourself.

True paths are uncovered, unearthed, and created through your feet kissing the earth.

As I said before, the path is already inside of you. And the way it’s uncovered is through your feet kissing the earth with each step you take. With each stride, your soul makes love to the world, and you begin co-creating your life.

Your walking creates the unfolding.

“The object is not to drink to quench your thirst. The object is to develop the perfect thirst, so that you never stop drinking.” – Sufi teaching

The object of your perfect path is not to get anywhere. Even though we think it is, because that seems to make sense. The reason you walk, or take action is not to achieve.

It would seem like the path is only a means to an end, a route to reach the goal.

But it’s not.

The reason for the path is to experience, to cultivate an incredibly satisfying now. Which is really not that hard at all. You don’t have to find the perfect path, remember?

You have all the tools you need to uncover it: your intuition, your feelings, and your internal compass will guide you.

The first question is, how much are you enjoying now? That’s the only way you can know whether or not you’re on the right path.

It’s already waiting inside you. It’s here. Take a moment to feel it within you, stirring, restless and waiting to awaken from its slumber.

I guess the next question is, when will you start your journey?

photo courtesy of izzard

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Annie Stith (@Gr8fulAnnie) August 12, 2010 at 8:29 am

Hey, Jonathan!

Great article. Wonderful metaphor. Unfortunately, I’m lucky these days if I can walk to the kitchen and back. I tried to connect with it, really I did, but the whole walking/feet on the path thing just didn’t work for me.

So, I came up with a couple other metaphors and thought I’d share just in case anyone else couldn’t connect.

First, I thought of a hot air balloon, which I control by how much hot air goes in the balloon. I also kinda like that it can be carried along by the “winds” of intuition.

Then I also saw a canoe in a river as following a path, which is controlled by the oars. I like this one because it includes both slow flow and fast currents on the path.

There they are, for what they’re worth!

Annie

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miltownkid August 12, 2010 at 8:36 am

I subscribed to a bunch of “Personal Development” blogs a few days ago and yours has been the only one I connected with (so far). I read a bunch of your recent stuff and it’s all pretty cool.

All this “walking the path” business sounds very Daoist of you. :) I’m ALL about living in the present, sometimes I think too much so. It’s funny you posted this today because last night I felt kind of “meh” about life and such. It hit me that all of my “goals” were bringing me down, so I decided to “be me” today and… Enjoy!

Anyhow, I felt compelled to comment on something since I read so much of your stuff last night. You have +1 new follower!

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Katie Brandt August 13, 2010 at 5:10 am

I agree Miltownkid – I just started reading this blog and I am a big fan already!

Mike Roberts August 12, 2010 at 9:54 am

I have often thought of this too, killing my goals… I used to visualize these grand goals I wanted to accomplish and I would even attach concrete dates to boot.

“Have a net worth of 1,057,321 by Oct 3, 2010″

Each morning, after my meditaions, I would experience these goals within myself as though they had already happened. It was fun.

Along my own path, I started to notice that certain goals meant less to me, and in most cases with these longer term grandiose goals, I didn’t care about them at all.

I just loved the path towards the goals…

If a person does decide to set goals, the question must always be; “How to set a goal in a way that improves my present?”

For me, setting a shorter term goal that feels BIG to me and then giving myself fully to that goal, is blissful. Everything about the process is overwhelming beautiful for me.

~Mike

PS- “Using goals to cultivate a better path” … the perfect tag line for Big Goal Hunting. Thanks :)

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Katie Brandt August 13, 2010 at 5:09 am

LOL Mike – I love HOW specific your goal is $1,057,321 :-) Mine is to make $100,001 in 2011. People ask me why the extra dollar – it is because I can say I made over 100K. 2010 is a prep year to make this goal a reality

Best of luck to you on walking your path and reaching your goals!

Jonathan August 13, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Woah Mike, you got really specific.

I think that’s ultimately the best indicator: how easily you get excited about a goal. If it’s hard to get excited, then you know it’s probably not a very worthwhile goal.

Ken August 16, 2010 at 2:17 am

I like your thinking. I have a goal to make a million in 5 years, starting basically from scratch right now.
And to Jonathan, I’d like to say that I’m going to keep coming back here because every time I do, I learn something new. Thanks for making great content.

Q August 12, 2010 at 10:28 am

and to answer your question, the only answer there can ever be, “now! now! now!”

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Nicola August 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I so often feel this way about my yoga practice. When I’m worrying about my goals, when I’m thinking about getting fitter or stronger or more flexible, I just don’t enjoy it as much. When I do it just because I love it, it’s easy. And that’s why I love the practice. Every time I get off track my soul gently pushes me back towards the path, time and time again.

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Jonathan August 13, 2010 at 7:17 pm

That’s beautiful Nicola, thank you for sharing that.

Setema Gali August 12, 2010 at 8:22 pm

great article. Thank you.

I am a huge goal setter and goal getter and goal giver. I love your perspective on it and it rings true.

I truly believe in living in the present. No doubt we must learn to live in the present especially when we live in a world that focuses so much on the past and on what hasn’t yet come yet and what might never come.

I loved the article.

Keep up the great work.

I too believe that goals are crucial for they do shape a path. When one learns how to set and obtain goals without letting the goals put them into misery…and discouragement then they have discovered as you said to live in the path in the present and to enjoy it.

Peace.

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Mathieu August 13, 2010 at 2:08 am

Goals are great as long as you have them crammed in the back of your mind, like crammed into the attic. Goals have utterly made me miserable in the past because the mind can be far far ahead your current reality.

Being goalless is even worse though. Get goals, keep them in mind, but if it is a question of missing time with your wife to achieve more and more, there is something sorely wrong.

It’s like the idea that people work better when they are rested. A while ago I had to stop trying to work on PD for 14 hours a day because I thought I was always behind, now I work a few times a week on it and fill in my life with other relevant stuff. I am much happier, and my PD material is much better.

Visit Futhark Lifehack

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Jonathan August 13, 2010 at 7:19 pm

There has to be some kind of middle ground. I think sometimes setting the goal, then forgetting about it is the best approach. You can set out to reach a summit, but if you’re so focused on the top, you’ll likely be discouraged about getting there. But you still need to set the goal to keep walking, to have some kind of motivation. So, think about reach the top, then focus on the current step.

Cameron August 13, 2010 at 6:57 am

Jon. This is something I’ve been pondering myself the last few days. It’s awesome to see that it’s a shared perspective, and even better when it’s articulated in such a way as this!

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Nate August 13, 2010 at 7:30 am

Jonathan – wonderful article and I totally relate to what you’re saying here. Goals are not inherently bad. What can be bad is if we become consumed by goals and ignore the present moment (i.e. focus on some future outcome, event or situation rather than enjoying the entire process and journey).

Your comments on listening to your feelings and intuition certainly ring true to me and it’s something I’ve been spending a lot of time doing lately. There’s a great book by Martha Beck called Finding Your Own North Star that is completely focused on better listening to our feelings and intuitions. On its face, it might seem selfish to do this, but how can we actually improve the world, give back and help others if we are following a path that’s purely based on external circumstances (how other people will view or perceive us, etc.) rather than living from a place of truth, stripped away of all the stories we’ve created around this identity of who we should be.

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Jonathan August 13, 2010 at 7:20 pm

All right, it’s time I pick up this book! People keep recommending it to me, and it keeps showing up in my reality. Gonna go order it now…

Rachel August 14, 2010 at 9:25 pm

This was just what I needed today. I’ve been feeling ‘sluggish’ and with goals/direction in life (even though achievement of some of my ‘goals’ is falling into place.)

It’s great to be reminded that it’s about the ‘journey, not the destination.”

Or as Wayne Dyer says, ‘living on purpose, not outcome.’

Thanks again!

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Lachlan Cotter August 15, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Hi Rachel. Wayne Dyer is a personal hero of mine. The “purpose versus outcome” idea made a huge impact on my life too.

Lachlan Cotter August 15, 2010 at 10:53 pm

I don’t really use the word ‘goal’ anymore. I no longer think of achievement as a process of action, but more like a process of growth. Ultimately all our external goals are only symbols of internal change. Real satisfaction and fulfilment is a state of mind that has nothing to do with external indicators. But having a goal and living in the present moment doesn’t have to be a dichotomy. Finding stillness and quietude in the present moment is peace-giving, but expanding to a new, greater version of yourself is exhilarating. It’s not the goal you need to dispense with, but the trying that goes along with it. Seek joy first.

Loved the Sufi teaching.

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Graeme, Relationship Blogger August 16, 2010 at 2:54 pm

“True paths are uncovered, unearthed, and created through your feet kissing the earth.”

Great quote,I like your work! Stumbled :)

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Christopher Foster August 16, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Hi Jonathan:
“Your walking creates the unfolding.” This post is most meaningful. My expperience: a goal or a passion or a compulsion may be PERFECT for awhile, perhaps even years. But we have to be alert. Because one day, you may wake up and life is saying “Look buddy you need to move in a completely different direction now. This is now. That was then.
Example: For a long long time, I was absolutely sure material abundance was evil and my sole purpose in life was to find “truth.”
It was a wonderful goal. Terrific experiences.
Then one day as I say I woke up and oops.
Something has changed. Kill that goal, as you say.
There is nothing wrong with some material affluence at all. Get busy Chris and let the spiritual abundance you think you have be manifested in a bit of material abundance…let yourself be made whole…
So the journey goes on, for all of us don’t you think, Jonathan? Never a dull moment.

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Amy August 17, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Love it.

One of my favourite Buddhist quotes is “the path is the goal, and the goal is the path.”

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Kirstine Vergara August 18, 2010 at 7:36 am

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

This is my inspiration right now. I’ve learned that I can still go back to my old goals and pursue them one more time. You see, I’ve kinda stopped dreaming when I had a family of my own. I felt that I was too old to do anything for myself. This made me really unhappy. But after attending a seminar, I realized that it’s never too late to set new goals. Now I am pursuing my old goals and will probably have new ones in the future.

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Lauren August 19, 2010 at 7:59 am

Hey Jonathan,

I happened across your blog a few months ago and have quite enjoyed your posts I must say.

One question I like to ask myself is in terms of figuring out if I’m really loving my present – if I’m on the right path in the here and now, is just Will this matter in 5 years? Or even a week from now!

And when I say matter I mean contribute to my overall happiness, help me spend more time on my priorities, and of course just get closer to the person I want to be.

As far as going after the goals that fit in my priorities it is soooo easy to let stupid things distract me from proceeding down my path, whether it be mentally in terms of self doubt, or external factors like my addiction to LOST or Stumble Upon. :P

Also,
Loved what Amy said above in that
“The Path is the Goal, and the Goal is the Path.”

ANYWAYYYY, I enjoyed your post very much!

– LAUREN

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Laura Lee Bloor August 19, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Finding the middle ground of having goals but not being consumed by them is what I struggle with the most. Lately I’ve swung back to largely ignoring my goals but spending a ton more time with friends and family, and I don’t regret it for one second. The goals will still be there, so I’m trying to work on not beating myself up for not working on them every single day. If I just take one small step per day, that’s enough. If I do more, it’s a bonus. And I must admit, letting go a bit has made me much happier in the now. Thank you, Jonathan.

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Jason Fonceca August 19, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Absolutely fantastic article, Jonathan. I came here through Nathan Hangen’s review of RYD, and I’m really glad I did. What a fantastic resource Illuminated Mind is, and I love how your post flowed from goals into abundance into living in the present moment. Pure poetry man. I have quite a reading list at the moment, but I’ll definitely check RYD, I’ve no doubt it’s as polished as the rest of the site. Rock on man, thanks for sharing!

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Bobby Gnadowski August 22, 2010 at 7:23 am

Really interesting article!
Although goals have always existed independently from a political or economical system, they are nowadays more than ever the fundament of capitalism and the consumption society.
I wouldn’t say they are wrong since they make the current system work – how would students pass their exam or people succeed at their driving test without setting goals? – but in a society based on the social status, competition and where real values (family, love etc) are replaced with material success and short term pleasures, it makes people looking for new needs and therefore defining wrong goals.
Many people do always want more and cannot get happy with what they have. And unfortunately this affects lower classes before all, who are encouraged to buy the new plasma TV or are told that they could succeed or be the next TV star…

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Demond Thompson August 25, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Thank you sooooo much! I have been guilty of letting the goals and the accomplishment of them consume me instead of enjoying the path.

The goal is temporary and if that’s all we live for then, it will never satisfy.

Thanks for bringing this back to my attention.

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Julius August 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Your article has helped me realize that a goal that leads you to an unhappy path may not be worth it. I sometimes find myself thinking “I gotta do this though I don’t like it that much, because it’s part of my current goal”. Now I realize that the path, and the experience and good times you get from it, is more important than the goal itself.

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Barrie Davenport August 30, 2010 at 5:44 am

Jonathan,
I love this statement: True paths are uncovered, unearthed, and created through your feet kissing the earth.

That is just beautiful. It is the path that provides us joy — more so than the destination. Every step of the path needs to be a destination to be celebrated. Reaching goals can be a let down sometimes when we’ve plodded along to get there. But when your feet are kissing the earth on the way — then the destination is so much sweeter.

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Dahlia August 30, 2010 at 7:32 am

Jonathan,

Thanks for the amazing post.

Yes, goals freak us out sometimes, if not MOST OF THE TIME. It gives us anxieties about achievements and time. But isn’t anxiety a good thing? Of course at certain levels, it is. But what happens when we don’t feel anxious anymore and we feel very comfortable where we are? Won’t we stagnate? What drives us if we don’t have goals?

For me, ‘killing the goal’ thing isn’t such a good idea. Instead of seeing them as enemies, why not ‘befriend’ them? The goal is as important as its maker, if it’s not doing me any good, then the goal has lost its purpose. So when I feel like goals are turning against me, I keep in mind that I can always make changes as needed. Just as you have said, goals guide the path and sometimes path guides the goal – just like friends do.

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Amir Anzur September 3, 2010 at 2:27 am

The way you specified your goal is really fascinating. I guess when you know where you are headed, you realize more quickly what needs to be done in order to get there. Everyone should specify their goals despite how little or huge.
Thanks

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Ryan September 4, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Awesome Article!! Love your writing, man :-).. You are the pro :-).

Cheers!

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WebVostro September 8, 2010 at 12:39 am

“Stop worrying about money and realize the amazing amount of abundance that exists without me having to create it.”

Nature, Relationships, Family, Pets, Moments, Sunsets, Picnics, etc.

So so true…all these things are priceless….they are life…money wishes it could compete

good post.

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Graeme September 11, 2010 at 9:46 am

I think that you’re onto something big with the idea that your goals should improve your present. If goals give you a deeper sense of purpose, and more energy right now, and you can share that sense of purpose and that drive with those around you in a loving way, then goals are very important. Often in relationships, if a guy has goals and has a lot of purpose in his life, that will give certainty to those around him, and will create more love and openness. Also by knowing his deeper purpose in his life, he has greater clarity and can be more decisive and trustable.

You should do more video posts. +1 Subscriber (finally).

Graeme

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halinagold January 1, 2012 at 5:32 am

Great post Jonathan! I feel like sharing my New Year’s tale with you :-) (which felt kind of risky as in: Am I the only one going this way? Apparently not. :-) http://InstantTeleseminar.com/?eventid=25136526

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Yoann December 25, 2012 at 9:59 pm

We are so blessed to live in a world where articles like this one are so easily accessible! I was debating with myself about the purpose of goals setting and decided to make a Google search and I found this gem. Thanks a lot for your insights!
For me it’s still a bit tricky to understand how to be fully present and at the same time set goals that relate to the future, but I think I’m on the good way, or path :).
As Byron Katie says: “All I have is all I need and all I need is all I have in this moment.” , which is definitely true, but hard to raise awareness on it sometimes. The ‘ultimate’ goal would be to be completely goal-less, just enjoying everything second without craving for anything. But before reaching this stage of being pure spirit, we still have to work with goals, in order to survive.
I still want to improve myself, to learn, to achieve, and this is driven by my ego. Event the goal of being enlightened is a goal from the ego! That can be very disturbing, it seems like there is no solution, but I came to realise that this was actually fine. To structure a healthy and confident ego is the first necessary step to get rid of it, and having aims in life certainly helps for that. So we set goals with our ego and we dissolve this same ego on the path by being present.
Fascinating paradox! :)

PS: It’s also great to see that so many other people are walking on their paths. So many things to learn from each others!

Namaste,
Yoann

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Tobi Hannah July 6, 2013 at 4:54 pm

This is exactly what I needed to read today, I’m so grateful I found this blog. Never actually commented on anything online before but this post has given me a lot of clarity. Thank you so much for writing this.

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Anonymous November 16, 2013 at 9:20 pm

“Choose goals that make me feel good right now, instead of sometime in the future”

Isn’t that something an addict would say ? Don’t you think this kind of short-term thinking encourages directionless behavior. We all know that being results-oriented can make a person more successful and probably more satisfied.

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Eoin December 3, 2013 at 9:39 am

I have to say that I’ve found this article unbelievably enlightening. I’ve always struggled with Goals v’s Living in the Present and was conflicted as to what to focus on. But suddenly I’ve realised that I’ve been looking at it all wrong. Maybe a little mid-life crisis, but for the past few weeks I’ve been stressing about where my life is going, and when would I get there. But now, thanks to this article and Jonathan’s other one about living in the present, I realised that I should be walking the path, but using the goals as a guideline, but not a rigid list of milestones which must be hit.
So in the space of 30 seconds I have re-written all of my Life goals with a view that they should give me pleasure now, and everyday as I improve myself. I’ve done this simply by writing them in the present tense, and keeping them open to change and interpretation so that they keep me on the straight and narrow, while also giving me the freedom to enjoy the journey.
For example – rather than saying “I want to earn XX amount by the age of 40, now my goal is:
* I am wealthy in every sense of the meaning of the word.
And rather than focusing on Win % and hours to be spent on the range, my sporting goal is simply:
* I am a really good Golfer.

I can’t over emphasise the weight I feel has been removed from my shoulders. It’s like I’ve given myself the power to accept my achievements and removed the stress of “arriving” somewhere at some time in the future!

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Jonathan August 13, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Thanks! I really appreciate your readership. Keep coming back and I promise to do my best to meet your expectations. :)

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