142. The #1 Mindset Holding You Back in Life

February 29, 2024

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Have you ever wanted to do something — overhaul your health, change your body, start a new career, reach some financial goal — and become utterly overwhelmed just thinking about all the things you’d have to do to achieve it? You’re not the only one. For many of us, it’s not the fear of failure that is holding us back in life, it’s the “go big or go home” mindset that stops us from progressing. The attitude that it has to be all or nothing.

In this episode, Tori unpacks the harmful effects of this mindset and offers practical strategies for overcoming it.

“The pursuit of perfection is completely futile.” 

Perfection is the enemy of progress. In a world where we’re conditioned to believe it’s all or nothing, embracing imperfection becomes a radical act of self-love and growth. But unfortunately, it’s not a mindset that is celebrated in today’s society. Especially not for women.

Research shows that we teach boys how to be resilient, but we teach girls how to be perfect. Reshma Saujani spoke about this in her Ted Talk, Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection. Girls grow up learning that they either need to do things perfectly, or not at all.

Now you might be thinking, “I don’t expect myself to be perfect.” And while that may be the case, here’s how the mindset tends to show up — it shows up as you being afraid to fail or not wanting to do something if you can’t give it your ALL.

How else can this show up in our lives? 

  • Goal setting: Waiting for the “right time” to start working on a new goal. We know that we could start goals at any time, but we think it has to be on the first of the month, it has to be on the first of the year, or we don’t set them at all.
  • Working out: Thinking that you have to push yourself to the limits, or walk away sweating or else “it doesn’t count.” Having a “no pain, no gain” attitude.
  • Finances: Thinking that only being able to save or invest a small amount is not enough, or not getting started with investing because you don’t know all there is to know about how to invest.
  • Dating & relationships: Having the attitude that if you’re not dating to find a life partner/husband/wife, it’s a waste of time. Putting too much pressure on yourself to find “the one” without allowing yourself time and space to organically get to know someone.
  • Hobbies: We think (or rather, society has taught us) that we need to make money from our hobbies or turn them into a side gig or career, otherwise “what’s the point.” Or we refrain from trying different things because we think we might be bad at them.

So how do you shift this mindset?

Understand that you don’t have to be perfect. You will never be perfect. Stop looking at things as all or nothing, and instead, embrace small steps and find bite-sized versions of the things you want to do — whether it is letting go of your expectations when it comes to dating, whether it’s getting in five minutes of movement rather than going to the gym, or whether it’s just understanding that you can save $20 a month and that still counts. 

Getting started is often the hardest part, but keep in mind that showing up imperfectly is better than not showing up at all. 

Mentioned in this episode:

Reshma Saujani Ted Talk

Stock Market School

How to Travel Ethically on a Budget with Jo Franco 

How Can We Achieve Financial Security – JVN + Tori podcast episode

Additional Resources:

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Her First $100k Debt Defeater Course

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Tori Dunlap:

Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Financial Feminist. I am so excited to see you if you’re an oldie but a goodie, welcome back, and if you’re new here, welcome to the show. I fight the patriarchy by making you rich. I don’t need more titles than that. That’s my job title. A couple of housekeeping things. One, we recorded an episode in June of … May of 2022, and in that episode I mention that I had a meet cute on the New York City subway, that I locked eyes with this very handsome stranger. And by the way, this was when you were still masked, so I had no idea what he actually looked like, but his eyes were beautiful. Locked eyes for a couple stops, and then I handed him my phone getting off the train to put his number in. We’ll link the episode in case you want to listen to the whole thing.

We went on one date. I said back then, because I was worried that somehow he would listen, that it was not a love connection. I will say much more explicitly this time. It was a bad date. It was not a good date. Now, he was beautiful, do not get me wrong, but this man googled me in front of me on the date, okay? It was bad. It was not good. And people have been commenting on some of my posts asking me for an update. One, we did an update, but two, I just want to be very clear, we went on one date. It was bad. I’ve never spoken or talked to him again, and frankly, I don’t think I even remember his name. So that’s our update, is like as much as I think it would’ve been lovely, a lovely meet cute of met on the New York subway, locked eyes, and now we’re married, that didn’t happen. So that’s the first thing.

Second thing is, oh, Kristen, what was the other update? Oh, show notes. Okay, so a little podcast lingo here that even we sometimes get confused at when Kristen and I are talking; there’s a difference in podcasting between a description and show notes. A description in a podcast episode is the thing you see on your podcast app. So if you’re listening on Apple or Spotify right now, it’s the thing that tells you about the episode and maybe has a link or two. That’s the description. A lot of people believe that when we say there’s more information in the show notes, they think it’s that.

We do a whole other page on our website that is the show notes. That’s literally like a blog post with a full transcript of the episode. Literally, it’s transcripting what I’m saying right now. Hi, AI, if you are going to be human someday, please spare me. Also, if we have guests, we do links to their book or to their website. We have so many further resources. So if you are ever listening to an episode of the show and you’re like, “That was great, where do I go now to learn more? Where do I go now to apply the things that I’ve learned? Are there free workshops? Are there follow-up episodes to this? Are there episodes like this that she’s done before?” the answer is yes. You got to go not just to the description, but to the actual show notes. And I will say as well, our team spends a lot, a lot of time making these pretty and they would be very appreciative if you pop over to the show notes every once in a while because there’s a lot of good shit over there.

Last but not least, you knew this was coming, subscribe to the show. It truly helps us. It helps the show continue to run. As I’ve said before, this show is free for you, but expensive for us and we want to keep producing it and keep getting amazing guests. So subscribing to the show, leaving us a five-star review if you are so inclined, and also sharing the show with your friends, you already do this so well, Financial Feminist, and we really appreciate it. So thank you for your support of the show.

Okay, let’s talk today about something that has been in my notes app on my phone for a while to talk about. It is the number one mindset holding you back let’s just say in life, in your career, in your business if you run a business, in your personal finances, but also in dating and in your hobbies and just how you’re existing in life. And I will tell you that I am only starting to unpack for myself too how this mindset has negatively shown up in different aspects of my life. I figured it out very quickly when it came to personal finance, but I’ve been slower on the uptick when it comes to things like my goals or my relationship with my body and my relationship with health. So I’m not going to bury the lead. The mindset is the all-or-nothing mindset. It is the mindset of like we were joking before Kristen and I of go big or go home. There’s sometimes where go big or go home can be great. I will say for most of the instances, it’s not very helpful for us.

This all-or-nothing mindset is what keeps us from progressing in our life and feeling comfortable with ourselves and with our bodies and with our choices and with our careers and with our money because we think either I need to do it perfectly or I need to do it 112000% or I don’t do it at all. And we actually know from research, it’s the Girls Who Code founder. She had this great TED Talk where we teach boys to be resilient and we teach girls to be perfect; it’s something like that. Even when we’re kids, we are learning that for boys, the value is in how much you try and how just trying something and it doesn’t work and you try something again versus we teach girls to do perfect things, to be perfect. And so the answer is you either do it perfect, which by the way is completely unobtainable, or you don’t do it at all.

And I know you’re thinking, “Well, I don’t expect myself to be perfect. That’s crazy. I don’t expect my goals or my money to be perfect. I don’t expect the cadence at which I go to the gym to be perfect ’cause I know perfection’s not obtainable,” but here’s the sneaky little thing is you actually do. You actually do expect perfection of yourself. You actually do expect that you either do things perfectly or there’s no point in trying because, one, you’re afraid of failure. You’re afraid that maybe you’re not good enough, you’re afraid that maybe this isn’t going to work out in your favor and that you’re going to have egg on your face and you’re going to look stupid. And it’s also, we have different expectations for ourselves than for others.

I remember seeing these posts, especially during the pandemic where it was like a meme. It was like, oh, me to my friends, “Oh, take some time for yourself. The world’s really hard right now. If things fall through the cracks, it’s fine.” And then also me to me, “But I can’t do that. I can’t take time. I have to do things perfectly all of the time, a hundred percent.” So this pursuit of perfection, I’m just going to break it to you, it’s completely futile. It’s completely futile. And I want to talk about how this all-or-nothing mindset hurts us in different aspects of our lives.

So the first example that is so obvious to me is the way we set goals as individuals, but also as a society. There’s a reason I’m recording this in February and it’s probably going to come out end of February, March, is because this New Year’s resolution mindset is like I either set my goal … My dryer’s beeping. I don’t know if we can hear the beep. We can’t hear the beep? Okay, we can keep this, it’s fine. My dryer is just like and it’s going to beep again. Hold on. We’re going to grab it. You can keep all of this if you want. Domesticity! For those watching on YouTube, you can see what I wear for these recordings, which is sweatpants.

Okay, where was I? all-or-nothing, specifically for goals. So you’re listening to this at the end of February. I’m literally recording it the 15th of February. And what’s happened is you probably abandoned your New Year’s resolutions because of course we all have. And then we think, well, I can’t set goals until next year. And again, we know that’s crazy. We know that we could start goals at any time, but we think it has to be on the first of the month, it has to be on the first of the year, or we don’t set them at all. And the same thing with goals is that we think either we need to go to the gym every day or we don’t do it at all. Either we do it perfectly or we don’t do it all. Either we save a million dollars or we don’t do it at all. And we’ll talk about this more in depth with each particular topic, but with goals, this is so easy to do.

This is so easy to think is I either start at of the month and if I start at the second of the month, I’ve already failed, right? Or I either do the craziest biggest goal, that by the way is completely unobtainable, that you are going to not be able to do because it’s unrealistic and that’s not because you’re not strong and you’re not capable, it’s just because that’s how life works, or I don’t do it at all. It’s truly I do everything or I do nothing.

Let’s talk about this with working out. This is something Kristen and I have talked about offline. I believed for a very long time, like I think a lot of us did, literally until probably a year ago, two years ago, that I either go to the gym and I push myself so hard, and if I’m not walking out sweaty, it “doesn’t count.” If I’m not sore and I look like a drowned rat at the end, it doesn’t count. Or the more extreme version that is honestly incredibly damaging and toxic and really unhealthy is no pain, no gain. Truly if you don’t hurt, you’re not doing it right.

And I will say as a plug for a previous episode, and also not paid to say this, we’ve talked about how barre3 changed my entire life and my entire relationship to fitness. Sadie Lincoln, who is barre3’s founder, came on our show and talked about, one, fitness should not be painful. It can be uncomfortable, it can have a burn, but you should not be feeling pain. It should not actually be painful, because that leads to injury, that leads to just an unhealthy relationship with yourself. But it also doesn’t have to be 60 minutes, two hours in the gym or it doesn’t count.

I’m a busy person. I’m sure you’re a busy person. You’re probably listening to this maybe on a walk or in your car or doing dishes or at work, and you are trying to fit in all of the things you’re supposed to do in your day. And I put supposed to in the biggest air quotes possible. And one of those is working out, right? And you might be thinking, “Well, I don’t have 60 minutes, so I’m not going to work out at all.” And I get caught in this even now today all of the time. If I don’t have 60 minutes plus the time to commute back and forth from the gym or from barre, okay, I’m not going to work out today because it’s not worth it.

Sadie was the person, and barre3 was the organization that really taught me you can do tiny little workouts because one, that’s better than nothing, but two, we actually have seen that little 10 minute workouts that add up to something like a half hour is just as impactful, if not more, than you spending a half hour, 45 minutes, 60 minutes, whatever at the gym or at a fitness class. So literally, if you just have two minutes between meetings, get up, walk around, walk up and down your stairs one or two times, do a couple squats, great. That’s great. And again, I can hear your mind doing the same thing my mind does where it’s like, “Oh, but that’s kind of, that’s Weenie Hut Jr’s. That’s not actually a workout. And that’s just the sad excuse for a workout.”

No, it’s not. And I’m saying this to you, but I’m also saying it to me. If that’s all you’ve got, that’s fucking incredible. That’s fucking great because you moved your body today and you’re taking care of yourself, and that is better, not only better than nothing, but it’s fantastic. It’s great. If you only have 20 minutes, let’s walk around the block. Let’s plug in our walking pad and walk for a little bit even on a meeting.

This is something I just have to fight myself on all of the time is this belief that either I have this dedicated amount of time and not only that, but I go to the gym and I work out really hard and I’m really, really sweaty or it doesn’t count. It doesn’t count. And that’s just not true. If you have a little bit of time, move your body, do something that feels good, even if it’s just two minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and it also doesn’t have to be this choreographed routine. You can pop up and do some squats. You can pop up out of your chair and grab some weights and do some bicep curls for two seconds. It doesn’t have to be you put on your Blogilates or whatever and do this designated workout.

Okay. That’s how all-or-nothing really gets me all of the time and I have to just remind myself that truly something’s better than nothing.

You can see where this is going when it comes to personal finance. You can see where this is going. We either think we have to save a million dollars or I’m not going to save anything at all. And I actually see this so often with our community is people who might be financially struggling or might not have a lot to save, they think, “Well, I can only save $20 a month and that’s not a lot, and that’s not enough, and that’s not good enough, so what’s the fucking point?” I also see this more dramatically with a lot of members of our community who are Gen Z who say, “Well, the earth is going to end by the time I’m retiring, so why would I save for retirement?” Because what if the world doesn’t end, y’all? What if the world doesn’t end? I want you protected. And also let’s say we do have a zombie apocalypse, you having a little bit of money walking into that zombie apocalypse is going to be a lot better than you not having any money.

When it comes to investing and saving, we think, “Okay, I either have to, again, all-or-nothing, I either have to save a hundred percent of my income or there’s no point.” That’s not true. And with investing specifically, but I’ll say all personal finance linked into this, we think either “I have to be investing experts in order to do this or I don’t do it at all. I have to know every single term when I log into this financial portal or I’m just not going to invest at all.”

I see this literally countless times where people believe that they have to know all of the answers to all of the questions. And we kind of talked about this in our previous episode about the mindsets holding people back from entrepreneurship too is like, “I have to know everything there is to know about investing or I’m just not going to do it because again, I’m so afraid of making a mistake.” And I will shamelessly plug, but that’s one of the reasons we created Stock Market School because I’m tired of seeing women who are very smart and very well-educated and who definitely know enough to get started, not start because they feel like they have to be perfect. They feel like they have to be experts. They’re so afraid of losing their money, they’re so afraid of making the wrong choice. So this all-or-nothing mindset shows up a ton in our money because we think, again, we either have to do it perfectly or what’s the fucking point?

I also especially see this mindset with women over a certain age, women who are 40, 50, 60, they’re like, “I don’t have anything saved for retirement.” So then it’s like a sunk cost fallacy where it’s just like, “Well, I have nothing saved, so I’m fucked already, so I’m just not going to save anything.” Something is better than nothing. Yes, would I have loved to have you start in your 20s? Of course. Is that realistic for most people? Sometimes not, right? But you not having millions of dollars for your own retirement is a bummer, but you having a hundred thousand dollars or $3,000 or even $300,000 because of compound interest is way better than you just saying, “Well, I’m fucked anyway, so I’m not going to do it.”

I can do this metaphor forever. Same thing with debt. “I have $10,000 a credit card debt. What’s the fucking point? I’ll just put the $2,000 more on it because I already have 10 K of debt, right? What’s the point?” And it’s like, no, that’s like $2,000 more of debt. So I either literally go big or go home, I guess. It’s like I already have done this and it’s already fucked, so I’m just going to say, sure, why not? We’ll just keep letting this happen.

all-or-nothing also shows up in dating. I’m going to get a little vulnerable for a second. I was the person who never casually dated because I was like, I am going on dates to find my life partner. That was me forever. My early 20s, my mid-20s, up until literally a couple years ago, anytime I went on a date, it was like, if I don’t think that this person is a potential match for me for the long term, I’m not going to see them anymore. And that put way too much expectations on things way too early.

And also the first time I decided that maybe I wanted to date somebody that wanted different things than me was actually the most life-changing relationship of my entire life. And I think that me saying it either has to be husband or nothing, that either has to be life partner or nothing, at times was really helpful because I wasn’t wasting time with people who didn’t see my worth or didn’t see my value or who were just truly looking to have sex and nothing beyond that. But also it put way too much pressure even for me internally on a relationship, it demanded too much of it. And it also denied me the opportunity to organically get to know somebody.

I’ll also say before I met my current partner, I was in what I lovingly called my hoe phase where I had a roster. I had a roster of men that I was going on dates with. I had literally, this is such a flex and I don’t fucking care, I had men on every continent texting me. And I have to tell you that if you can do that at some point in your life, I highly recommend it. It was a release of expectations and pressure for me. It was fun to be flirty and fun to just see where things went. And for the first time in my life, I wasn’t like, this has to be perfect, right? This has to be everything. And it was like, if it leads to that, well, that is my idea still. I wasn’t saying I don’t have standards anymore, but it was this element of I’m going to take the pressure off and I’m just going to date because I want to meet people and I want to have fun, and also I want to eventually find somebody.

That was one of the favorite experiences I’ve had. And also it let go of this feeling I had about dating, which is like, “Oh my God, dating is so awful and it sucks.” And I’m like, yeah, there’s parts of it that suck. There’s also parts of it that are fun of just me getting to talk to people and flirt and eventually finding somebody I want to settle with.

So with dating, I just have seen this all-or-nothing in my own life and in my own self where it’s either like, yes, this is a hundred percent my life partner forever, or I’m not going to talk to them anymore. And maybe if you’re in that portion of your life because you really are just needing that, okay, but for me it’s just way too much pressure as a planner, as someone who can literally text somebody once and be like, “Oh, well, here’s how our names sound together and here’s where we’re getting married.” And it’s just very easy for me to do that. It was actually such a relief to just date still with the intention of meeting quality people, but without all of the pressure and expectations.

Another place this mindset shows up: our hobbies. We either monetize our hobbies, we either make them contribute to our career or there’s no point. That’s not what a hobby is, folks. That’s not what a hobby is. And again, I’m reading myself for [inaudible 00:21:13] here too. A hobby is because you like it. You do hobbies because they bring you joy. You don’t do hobbies because they’re making you money, because then that’s a business. And again, I’m saying this to myself because I think I’ve managed to monetize almost anything that brings me joy to the point where now it’s mixed emotions and filled with more expectations. Hobbies are meant to be there as an escape from your life, as a way to build community, as a way to bring yourself comfort and as something you do for fun, and you also don’t have to be perfect at them.

I think we refuse to do a lot of things that might interest us because we’re scared of being bad at them. And again, I’m talking about myself here too, but let’s say we want to take up ice skating. You’re going to fall on your butt all the time and you’re not going to look like fucking Michelle Kwan, and that’s going to be it for a while, but maybe you get joy from it.

You know who does this perfectly? This is a great example. JVN. I was lucky enough to be on Jonathan’s podcast. They were lovely, and if you’ve been following them on Instagram, they took up gymnastics because they just loved it. They loved how it looked. They just wanted to learn more about it. I think they would be the first to tell you that they’re not a world-class gymnast, but you can actually see as you’re tracking her progress, literally, he couldn’t do a somersault or couldn’t do a backhand spring, and now can. It’s been so cool to watch. And just the joy they get from it is just so lovely where they’re just like, “I am not the best at this thing, but I’m doing it because I love it and because it’s a journey to get better.”

It honestly was really inspiring to me, and especially since she was posting about it and posting about what their progress was, which was very vulnerable to not only do something and be bad at it, but then show everybody else, and I just loved that. And if you want to do things that you are interested in but you’re like, “I’m going to be bad at it,” fine. You can be bad at something, but also love it.

And this is something that I am telling myself as I actually look to potentially get back into acting. This was something that part of my identity for a really long time. I was an actor. I was a musician. That was something that was part of my identity for a very long, and then after college work got in the way and the business and all of these things, and I really want to go back to that, but I’m also afraid that I’m not as good anymore. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to hack it anymore, but I’m willing to try and I’m willing to go back into it because I miss it more than my fear of maybe I’m not as good, if that makes sense. I want to do the thing more than I’m afraid of looking bad at it.

And also anybody who is shaming you that you’re not very good at the thing but it brings you joy is not a fun person to have around. So with hobbies, hobbies are there to bring you joy. They’re not there to be perfect. You’re not there to be the most crazy, incredible person who’s ever done the thing ever, and they also don’t need to be monetized, and they don’t need to be a source of income. They can just be something you love to do and something that brings you peace.

And last but not least, we’ve talked about this before on the show with my friend Joe Franco. We will link her episode in the description as well as the show notes. But with travel, this is so common, especially social media and travel, I either have to travel internationally or it doesn’t count. If I don’t get my passport stamped, it does not count. I feel this. We all feel it because of social media.

One, international travel is expensive. It is. I give you hacks for doing it less expensively, but it is expensive. Not everybody can afford to do that. I’m also realizing my chronic pain, as much as I love travel, travel disrupts my entire life. It disrupts my entire life and makes my body feel worse. That’s just true. Travel doesn’t have to be you getting on a plane. Travel can be an hour away. Travel can be to a new city or to a new state. Travel can be even, I’m going to take a different route going to work today, or I’m going to go to a different coffee shop, or I’m going to listen to a podcast episode about somebody else traveling or read a book. Armchair travel is so real.

This all-or-nothing thing with travel is it’s like I either have to get on a plane, I either have to stay at the five star hotel, I either have to do all of the things. Oh, that’s the other thing, especially with Europe where all the countries are so close together, I was very guilty of this in my early twenties, I was, again, checking countries off the list of where I’ve been, and I would just go for a day or two. I would show up in France and be like, “Cool, I did France,” and I would just have gone to Paris for a day. Or I’m like, “Cool, I’ve been to the UK,” because I went to London for an hour.

That all-or-nothing is honestly, for me, slow travel has been the answer. I would rather go to one area in one country and get to know it on a way more deeper level than trying to be like, “I’m trying to see everything and do everything.” Same thing with going to a city, right? If you go to Florence, you’re like, “I need to go to 10 museums. I need to go to all of them, and at this museum, I need to see every single exhibit, and I also need to eat all of the food, and I also need to do all of the things or it did not count.” No, that’s not true.

Ultimately, if the point wasn’t hammered home enough, you don’t have to be perfect. You will never be perfect. Doing things all-or-nothing can potentially be really damaging. Finding bite-sized versions of these things, whether it is letting go of your expectations when it comes to dating, whether it’s just getting in five minutes of movement rather than going to the gym and working out as hard as you possibly can, whether it’s just understanding that I can save $20 a month and that still counts, or I can show up imperfectly when it comes to investing because the getting started is the most important part, not the being the expert part.

Hopefully, this episode is a reminder that showing up imperfectly is way better than not showing up at all, and doing things that bring you joy and that are micro versions or setting a goal on the 13th of the month is just as valid as everything else. So I encourage you and would love to hear from you on if this episode was impactful, but also the ways maybe the all-or-nothing mindset has showed up negatively in your life, and I just appreciate you being here. As always, thank you, Financial Feminists, and I will talk to you soon. Okay, bye everybody.

Thank you for listening to Financial Feminist, a Her First $100K podcast. Financial Feminist is hosted by me, Tori Dunlap, produced by Kristen Fields. Associate Producer, Tamisha Grant. Research by Ariel Johnson. Audio and Video Engineering by Alyssa Medcalf. Marketing and Operations by Karina Patel, Amanda Leffew, Elizabeth McCumber, Masha Bachmetyeva, Taylor Cho, Kailyn Sprinkle, Sasha Bonnar, Claire Coronan, Daryl Ann Inman, and Janelle Reasoner. Promotional Graphics by Mary Stratton. Photography by Sarah Wolf, and theme music by Jonah Cohen Sound.

A huge thanks to the entire Her First $100K team and community for supporting this show. For more information about Financial Feminist, Her First $100K, our guests and episode show notes, visit financialfeministpodcast.com.

Tori Dunlap

Tori Dunlap is an internationally-recognized money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. She has helped over one million women negotiate salary, pay off debt, build savings, and invest.

Tori’s work has been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Times, BBC, TIME, PEOPLE, CNN, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, BuzzFeed, and more.

With a dedicated following of almost 250,000 on Instagram and more than 1.6 million on TikTok —and multiple instances of her story going viral—Tori’s unique take on financial advice has made her the go-to voice for ambitious millennial women. CNBC called Tori “the voice of financial confidence for women.”

An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.

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