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Introverts at work

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Introverts at Work

Are the introverts at work people who are outside your inner circle? The ones you quietly let do their work like Old Faithful?

Or are the introverts at work the hidden powerhouses and secret weapons on your team?

Steve Friedman, a self-proclaimed introvert and author of In Search of Courage: An Introvert’s Story, helps us explore these paths and pulls back the curtain on the myths and stereotypes surrounding introverts.

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What You’ll Discover About Introverts at Work (highlights & transcript):

In Search of Courage* What it means to be an introvert at work [01:17]

* The 5 phases of introversion [04:20]

* How to know if you’re one of the introverts at work [07:34]

* Biggest myth about introverts at work [09:34]

* How introverts at work can get the recognition they deserve [10:46]

* What is often misunderstood about introverts at work [13:40]

* What introverts at work can do to bust common stereotypes about introversion [24:44]

* How introverts at work can benefit from diversity trends [15:53]

* The worst thing leaders do when managing introverts at work [16:59]

* And MUCH more.

Hanna Hasl-Kelchner:    [00:00:00.42] Are there introverts at work people who are outside your inner circle, the ones you let quietly do their work like Old Faithful, or are introverts at work the hidden powerhouses and secret weapons on your team? When we come back today, my guest, Steve Friedman, will help us explore each of these past and much more.


Announcer:             [00:00:21.36] This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, helping you see business issues hiding in plain view that matter to your bottom line.


Hanna:                   [00:00:32.55] Welcome to Business Confidential Now. I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and today’s guest is Steve Friedman. He’s a champion for introverts, helping them lead a more authentic and successful life. And after struggling for decades as an introvert in the corporate world, he began to learn about his introversion while writing his memoir, In Search of Courage: An Introvert’s Story.


Hanna:                   [00:00:56.67] His reflections led to the creation of informational resources for introverts at work and at home on his website Beyond So let’s have him join us now to learn more about this fascinating subject. Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Steve.


Steve Friedman:     [00:01:13.38] Hi, Hanna. Thanks so much for having me on. I’m looking forward to the conversation today.




Hanna:                   [00:01:17.55] Me too, because it’s a really interesting topic. I think there are times when people feel like, “Yeah, I’m an introvert but no, I’m an extrovert here.” So, when it comes to introverts and extroverts, you know, we all have stereotypes that we associate with those labels, and I appreciate it’s possible for people to be both depending on the setting. So, for purposes of our conversation today, I’d like to focus on the workplace. What does it mean to be an introvert at work?


Steve:                     [00:01:46.44] So, I think that’s a great lead in because I do agree with you that introverts and extroverts are on this spectrum and those terms or labels are on the ends of the spectrum, but the reality is we’re all different people. We slide up and down that – that line based on situations and individual people.


Steve:                     [00:02:04.20] So I think regardless of where we are on any particular point in time, the important thing is for us to learn how to be ourselves. And that sounds simple because we are who we are, but many introverts especially feel surrounded by an extroverted culture, whether at home, in school or in the workplace, especially in the workplace probably. We’re lured into – faking it ‘till you make it is heard a lot, so pretending to be something we’re not or – or an extrovert, and I think that creates all sorts of problems.


Steve:                     [00:02:33.60] I myself, you know, lived through that for most of my 30 years in corporate America, and the challenge was that I did a pretty good job of faking it. I went along with the social activities and things like that but along that path, I developed a very unhealthy lifestyle. I drank too much due to the stress, I ate too much, I was a workaholic because I felt like I needed to do extra in order to keep up with the others who I thought it came naturally to them.


Steve:                     [00:03:02.64] What was even more important that I didn’t realize until years later is that the workplace missed my authentic contributions, and I really thought they never wanted that. I thought they wanted me to conform. And that was partly due to the workplace I was in, but also due to my own apprehensions and – and observations.


Steve:                     [00:03:22.53] So, what happens I think in the workplace, whether around a small meeting room or in a boardroom, is if everybody’s kind of conforming to that extroverted culture, then we get a lot of the same answers and the same ideas or we get a lot of people that don’t contribute at all because they’re scared to contribute their true selves, and it not only wreaks havoc on the individual but the organization is certainly underperforming. 


Hanna:                   [00:03:45.54] That is a lot. [Laughter] You know, there are so many social pressures and now there’s, you know, the additional social pressure of social media, of people putting it out there. Tell me what you think it means to be your authentic self, because to me, this is starting to shade into that whole diversity conversation that people have, wanting to be their authentic self but maybe being fearful of being accepted. So, tell me a little bit more about authenticity from an introvert’s perspective.




Steve:                     [00:04:20.13] Sure. And I think it’s – it’s the core not only of introverts, frankly, but extroverts. Everybody, you know, when we – we can spend our lifetime trying to understand who we truly are and what our strengths are and how to use them. For introverts, that’s particularly difficult. I talk in my book about five different phases of introversion, and I think it’s really interesting to consider where each of us are on that phase and what we’re going through.


Steve:                     [00:04:43.98] So, we’ll briefly – the first phase is unaware. So most people, especially introverts, are unaware of their introversion for most of their childhood and probably adolescence, and sometimes some people have told me it’s their 40s or 50s before they’re even aware that they’re an introvert. So, we have certain traits. Most of them are genetically offered to us, and so they’re in – in our – in us from the earliest days. We feel different. We feel like we’re – we’re alone sometimes or we feel like we can’t keep up with other people who seem to be able to converse smoothly in public and do other things like that, but we’re unaware that it’s introversion.


Steve:                     [00:05:24.21] The second phase is uninformed. So we find this introversion label. Maybe we take a test in school or a personality test at work and we find out this label of introversion and it sounds like us, right? But oftentimes there’s not a lot of discussion afterwards, and so we naturally affix to a lot of the common stereotypes of introversion which are still out there and very horrible.


Steve:                     [00:05:47.74] You can look it up – after the podcast, you can look it up in dictionaries and thesauruses and words like loner, narcissist, icicle. I mean, really horrible negative connotations of people, and that’s what a lot of people in the second phase affix to and feel like…


Steve:                     [00:06:03.61] …it’s really sad in that we’re second-rate citizens and not really able to contribute. And so certainly, we’re not finding our true authentic self.


Steve:                     [00:06:11.89] And that’s what’s really left in the third phase, which is enlightenment. So suddenly, something triggers us to learn about our true selves. Could be a book. Susan Cain wrote the book Quiet about 10 to 15 years ago and it’s kind of the Bible for introverts. Great book. There are many other resources out there or people that you might talk to that suddenly open your eyes to the fact that introversion is not a curse, it’s actually a blessing. And we all have natural talents, and many introverts have a lot of the same kind of talents, and if we can apply those to even our most difficult situations, then we feel much more comfortable and our true authentic self comes through.


Steve:                     [00:06:47.41] The fourth phase is contentment, which is we learn enough about ourselves that we’re suddenly at peace with ourselves. We’re happy about work, about home and – and so forth, and we do things our way.


Steve:                     [00:06:58.24] And the fifth one is flourishing. We’re able to apply those strengths to dreams that we have that we never thought we could possibly accomplish years ago, but suddenly we have the confidence and the skills to be able to do anything we really put our mind to. So again, some people fly through those phases, but many people are stuck in the first two phases for decades and decades. But once you realize that you’re an introvert and that you learn about what introversion really means, you can discount those myths and attach yourself to some of the stronger traits that you might have and how to apply them at work or at home.




Hanna:                   [00:07:34.03] There’s two things that what you just said brought to mind. One, I’m not sure we’re clear – at least I’m not – about what exactly is introversion. And you studied it. For those of us who are like, “I don’t know, am I an introvert? Am I an extrovert? [Laughter] You know, I feel awkward in certain situations,” but then on others, it’s like, “Yeah, let’s go.” [Laughter] So, what – what is an introvert?


Steve:                     [00:07:58.84] Sure, and that’s a – that’s a great topic and one that many people have many different definitions. But the best definition that I’ve heard that I really like is formed around what I call the energy equation. It’s how you get your energy.


Steve:                     [00:08:11.41] So, let’s say at the end of a long work week, you have an extrovert and an introvert. So on Friday afternoon, the extrovert is ready to “Let’s go out to the bar. Let’s go have dinner. We might have a couple of few socials going on during the weekend.” It’s how they recover from a work week, and it’s how they rejuvenate and get ready for the next week.


Steve:                     [00:08:27.73] Introverts, on the other hand, they may have a dinner or something like that out, but it’s usually going to be with a smaller group of close friends, and – and it’s not going to be throughout the whole weekend because they would rather gain their energy from things that are calmer. So, it could be being alone but it could be being with a small group of friends, but it’s, you know, reading, writing, hobbies like art, meditation, other things like that that can really help an introvert to recover.


Steve:                     [00:08:54.37] So, I think the best definition is how do you generate your energy, from which activity, social kind of outwardly type of activities or inwardly focused activities, and what drains you the most? There’s a myth that introverts are not really good public speakers, they don’t like to be out in public. But there’s so many examples of politicians, speakers, actresses and singers that are introverts.


Steve:                     [00:09:19.57] The fact is, many introverts like to be on the stage, but when they’re done, they’re exhausted and tapped. Doesn’t mean they didn’t have fun doing it, but now they’re exhausted and tapped and they need to get some alone time just to re-energize. And those are – those are introverts.




Steve:                     [00:09:34.57] So – so I think the biggest myth out there is that introverts don’t like to socialize, and I think that’s – that’s wrong and it’s – it does a lot of damage when extroverts use that, but it also does a lot of damage for introverts who somehow believe that “I can’t socialize.” And the fact is, they can. They just usually want to do it in shorter segments and smaller groups and things like that.


Steve:                     [00:09:56.77] But it’s – it’s really understanding how to manage that energy and once you understand that, then you can apply it to work and say, “Okay, I have a stressful meeting coming up at 1:00, so I’m going to make sure I’m prepared, I know the agenda, I’ve prepared my questions or whatnot, and I’m going to have a little downtime before 1:00. And it could be just a walk around the floor or the campus. It could be lunch by myself beforehand just to boost my energy level up before this big meeting. And then after the meeting, I might, you know, take another walk or something just to collect myself and – and get ready for the rest of the day.”


Steve:                     [00:10:29.72] An – an extrovert more than likely can walk into that meeting straight out of another meeting and they’re ready to go, and that’s fine, but introverts, I think it’s important that we understand how we work and how we build and gain energy and utilize those learnings throughout the day.




Hanna:                   [00:10:46.18] I love this idea about focusing on the energy, what – what recharges your battery, what drains your battery and – and how to manage that force field. That’s really great. I think that’s very helpful. You know how they always say the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but introverts aren’t exactly known for bragging. What advice would you give to introverts at work about how to get the recognition they deserve?


Steve:                     [00:11:10.24] Yeah, that’s – that’s very true. I hear that a lot. I experience that in my own work life as well. And I think that we’re never going to be the loudest person in the room, raising our hand and screaming about all these great things that we’ve done, even though we certainly may have a very strong record.


Steve:                     [00:11:26.86] But what we need to do is, again, use our strength I think in that environment of – of a large corporation to develop some processes where I’m talking to my manager on a regular basis, and I might be sending them a report every week, and it just – if I’m working on five or 10 different things, I have that on my report, just a bullet list, and I can talk a little bit. I used to do this and have a green light, yellow light, red light for depending on which ones were either successful, behind and I needed to talk to the manager about a little bit of guidance, or they’re on track but not yet done.


Steve:                     [00:12:00.22] And so by providing that feedback to the manager every Friday, it just is a routine way of keeping them in the loop. Now this doesn’t replace the conversations that we should be having with our manager or other people at work, but it does give the manager a way to understand that even though I probably didn’t hear from Steve much during the day because he’s kind of quiet and he does things below the radar, that he is doing a lot of stuff and he’s progressing projects or relationships just the way we were expecting.


Steve:                     [00:12:28.30] So I think that’s important, as well as trying to make sure that we have routine discussions with our manager. So oftentimes a manager may set that up, but sometimes the manager may be more extroverted and prefer to just wing it and pop into your office and say, “Hey, what’s going on?” And those situations can be a little bit frustrating for introverts who would like to prepare a little bit and collect themselves. So, you’ll still have those pop-in discussions depending on who your manager is.


Steve:                     [00:12:54.58] But if you have a set discussion every week or two with your manager, and the agenda could be very fluid, but you can prepare your topics that you want to talk about, and you have a chance on a one-on-one basis to get to know each other, build rapport, seek some help and advice. And those one-on-one small group sort of interactions are much more comfortable and easier to prepare for introverts than larger groups but – we have to make sure and kind of stretch our comfort zone.


Steve:                     [00:13:22.09] I’m not saying get out of our comfort zone because we’re using our natural strength, but stretch that comfort zone to make sure we have the interaction with our manager. It’s the most important relationship we have at work and oftentimes it’s overlooked perhaps out of fear, but it’s necessary and critical to – for us to grow as well as for the organization to progress.




Hanna:                   [00:13:40.57] Absolutely. And that is a great tip, to be able to play off the strengths. In your experience, what is it about introverts at work that managers and maybe even fellow teammates misunderstand and don’t recognize about the hidden strengths?


Steve:                     [00:13:56.89] Well, I think it starts with the fact that introverts tend to be quiet, and Susan Cain’s book was called Quiet and that – many would say that’s a perfect title. I think it’s a little bit loose because yes, we may be quiet in certain situations, but there are many introverts that can be very vocal when they feel the need to be that way. But generally, most people at work, managers or extroverts in general, are going to look at introverts and say, “Well, they’re kind of quiet.”


Steve:                     [00:14:22.06] Many times I was called aloof because it looked like I was kind of snubbing people because I was just busy and I was not conversing with people around the water cooler like other people would do. So I think that quietness seems to frustrate other people. They think, “Oh, this person can’t really communicate. They’re not good with relationships.” They read a lot into just – just the surface of people, and introverts in particular.




Steve:                     [00:14:44.62] And so while those stereotypes or myths are incorrect in general, that it really is up to the introvert to change that. So that doesn’t mean that we should be somebody we’re not, but I’m a big advocate for sitting down, doesn’t have to be on a billboard, but it may be just one on one, start with friends or close coworkers and share your introversion.


Steve:                     [00:15:06.94] And that might sound simple, especially to an extrovert who might have a very good relationship with many people in the team, but it’s difficult on the surface for introverts. But when you share that you’re an introvert, that I like quiet time, this is where I tend to operate, I – I’m happy to do work on my – on my own but I also like to work with teams…


Steve:                     [00:15:27.01] …once you share that introversion, then it opens it up, it releases the topic, and it lets you understand more about how each other works, what our strengths and weaknesses are, that I might look aloof but actually this is why I – you know, I need energy or don’t really focus on the social interactions during the day. And once you have that topic discussed not only with team coworkers but with your manager, then there’s a better understanding of each person’s style.




Steve:                     [00:15:53.53] And then we get to an understanding by the manager and the team of what our strengths are, and suddenly – you mentioned diversity earlier and I think it’s so critical and it’s been a huge topic over the last decade or more in corporate America, but I think it’s extending now to a diversity of thought. So, introverts can ride that wave of diversity.


Steve:                     [00:16:12.10] And because we bring different perspectives, and so if we’re an advocate for ourselves and for that line of thinking, then managers will not only understand where we’re coming from, they’re going to want us to come from the direction of as an introvert, they’re going to want us to come into meetings because we’re not going to be the ones that will make decisions flippantly.


Steve:                     [00:16:33.94] We’re going to usually analyze them and think about the pros and cons. We’re going to usually look at things from more of a balanced perspective, tend to have a more creative style. And so those different traits that we have, we don’t have to hide, but we should actually stand up and – and make sure they’re shared because I think that’s – that’s what helps an organization to make better decisions and find more creative solutions.




Hanna:                   [00:16:59.05] Definitely. Let’s focus for the time that we have left on the advice you might give executives, managers or business owners who may be managing introverts at work. What’s the worst thing they could do?


Steve:                     [00:17:13.48] Well, I think the worst thing they can do is just kind of buy in to the stereotypes or myths about introversion that we talked about earlier, and that may have been what they grew up with as well. I mean, that’s generally the way society has viewed introverts.


Steve:                     [00:17:27.07] But I think what managers really need to think about is they should be understanding that their primary goal is they want to deliver on whatever their product or promise is in the organization. So how best to do that, and the best way to do it is to get everybody to participate, to get a diverse group of people by gender, by race and by thought together to actively discuss it.


Steve:                     [00:17:48.91] So how can we actively get introverts in this case to participate? And usually, I mean, even at home, there’ll be times when I’ve got things on my mind and I don’t really proactively share them, but once my wife says, “Hey, what are you thinking about?” it takes the cap off the bottle and I’m able to talk more. So I think managers need to kind of play that a little bit as well and encourage the introverts to participate.




Steve:                     [00:18:11.95] So if we’re in a meeting, they need to not just listen to the people that speak up all the time in every meeting, but they need to ask others to contribute. “What do you think, Steve? What is your opinion?” If we’re in a meeting with a lot of brainstorming instead of just asking, going around the room because extroverts can typically think off the top of their head and introverts aren’t comfortable with that…


Steve:                     [00:18:33.16] …take out the sticky notes and say, “Hey, we’re – we’re going to spend a couple of minutes. Just jot down your ideas about this topic, and then we’re going to go around the table and – and we can discuss some of the things that people come up with.” That little amount of space and time provides introverts an opportunity to really think about some creative ideas, and then suddenly the team has a much more well-rounded list of options to consider.


Steve:                     [00:18:55.54] So I think that the manager needs to understand that they’re an – an important part of their business and they just need to invite them into the conversation and provide them the space to – to listen and participate.


Hanna:                   [00:19:09.10] It kind of reminds me of being back in school when the teacher would call on the person that isn’t raising their hand. [Laughter] Steve, what do you think about this?


Steve:                     [00:19:19.36] I can remember those times and I think, you know, sometimes that can scar introverts or other people, shy people. So there’s a difference between being shy and introvert, but shy people as well will – can kind of be stunted from some experiences in childhood that they just were thrown off and didn’t feel like they were able to, you know, answer that question when it was thrown to them, whereas other people around them are able to answer it without any problem.


Hanna:                   [00:19:42.52] True. At the same time, there are those people who feel like, “Well, maybe they don’t want to hear from me,” and being given the floor gives them the space to speak their mind, that they’re being accepted, they’re being invited. Anyhow, different ways to look at it. If you’re a manager, you know, you mentioned before how in your own career you were surrounded by all these extroverts or people that were pretending to be extroverts because they thought they were supposed to be, and so you try to cram yourself into this mold. As a business owner, a business leader, how can they identify an introvert that’s in an extrovert’s clothing?




Steve:                     [00:20:24.64] That’s a good question, and it’s really hard to do. As a little bit of a side story, I retired a few years ago after 30 years and I had a retirement party with people from various different parts of my career. And so we had lots of toasts and talks and drinks and so forth, and toward the end, I got up to just say my thanks and somebody asked, “Well, you know, what are you going to do in retirement?” And I said, “Well, you know, I used to write when I was a kid. I really enjoyed it. I haven’t been able to do it for a long time, so I think I’m just going to write and I’m going to see where that goes.”


Steve:                     [00:20:54.11] And they said, “Well, what are you interested in writing about?” and I said, “Well, I’ve actually started jotting down notes to write a bit of my memoir. So I’ve been thinking back to my childhood days and ever since, and there’s a common thread of introversion, so I really think I’m going to write about that.” Suddenly, the room went quiet.


Steve:                     [00:21:09.89] Every single person in the room went quiet and then one person kind of looked at me and said, “Wait a minute, you’re not an introvert. I mean, I’ve worked with you for years and years. We’ve traveled together. We’ve had business dinners and – and that sort of thing. There – there’s no way you’re an introvert.” At first, I thought, “Well, I definitely pulled that off,” and – but then I realized what an unfortunate mistake I had made, that they didn’t get to know the real me, the business didn’t get to have the best input that I could provide, and I was very unhealthy.


Steve:                     [00:21:37.67] But I fooled a lot of people, a lot of people for – for decades. And so it is hard for a manager to find that out. What I would advocate is there are things like – most people have probably heard of Myers-Briggs. There are different personality tests that you can provide.




Steve:                     [00:21:51.92] And what we did once with one of my teams toward the end of my career is we had an away days where we spent a couple of days out of the office and we had some social time and covered business and so forth, but we also sat down in a very casual environment and we took the Myers-Briggs and we talked about the results. So, it gave everybody an opportunity to share, so introvert or extrovert, and suddenly, the results will typically tell you whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, and they give more detail.


Steve:                     [00:22:18.80] And so it opens up the forum for everybody to talk very freely about that. So the benefits are aplenty. First of all, you get a greater bonding because people are being vulnerable and they’re sharing more of their personal history and their approach that many people at work didn’t know. And it becomes safer for introverts to talk about their introversion and for extroverts to ask questions and talk about whatever is on their mind as well.


Steve:                     [00:22:41.72] I’ve found that teams that were good turn to great after those sort of forums because you – you learn from each other and you bond. It breaks the ice. So now you can easily talk about introversion and, “Hey, maybe you’d be more comfortable if we went in a small group to this event instead of a large group?”


Steve:                     [00:23:00.02] Or it also triggered the opportunity for us to say, “Well, why don’t we sit down as a team and talk about what specific tasks does each of us have? And based on our talents and our strengths, which are related to our personality, maybe there are things that Steve does that I don’t really like to do, but Suzy loves to do those things, and maybe we can exchange some of the traits and build on our strengths so that the team as a whole will be much better.”


Steve:                     [00:23:27.23] And when we did that, results just skyrocketed because people were doing generally what they enjoyed and they weren’t having to fake their way through it. There was a very open line of communication within the team. So I would certainly encourage much more openness.


Steve:                     [00:23:41.48] It starts with the manager that’s got to say, “Hey, I want to do this,” but when you start off and you ask the question, I think it’s very true that there are a lot of people that are hiding, but generally, the general population is roughly 50 percent introvert. Not necessarily extreme introvert but on the more introverted side of the scale. And so chances are, if you’re in a work team of 10, probably four or five or six people are introverts and you probably don’t know who they are, and that’s such a shame that the company is missing out and the individuals are missing out.


Steve:                     [00:24:09.83] So the manager I would say needs to kind of lead the way to break that ice and take the business and the team much further.




Hanna:                   [00:24:17.18] If there’s just one takeaway that you’d want the world to know about introverts at work, what would it be?


Steve:                     [00:24:24.44] We have so much to offer. There are so many different areas that we can benefit from, and – and we have leadership opportunities that we can offer because we’re generally strong team players and we – we’re loyal to the team and we – we’re thoughtful and like to encourage that participation. And so I think that there’s so much that introverts can provide.


Steve:                     [00:24:44.84] But my message or my statement is not really just directed toward extroverts. It’s directed a lot towards introverts who don’t oftentimes have the confidence to believe they are warranted to have a seat at that table, to be an active participant and a strong player.


Steve:                     [00:24:58.61] And so I think introverts as well need to take the steps to learn more about what introversion is and what their strengths are, start to practice them, and they’ll build the confidence to be able to sit at that table and be the leader in the organization that they and the company will want them to be.


Hanna:                   [00:25:14.69] Wonderful. Steve, thank you. This has been an eye-opener. I think people are going to start looking at introversion in a different light, and I thank you for that.


Hanna:                   [00:25:24.23] And if you’d like to contact Steve to learn more about his work on introversion or his book, In Search of Courage: An Introvert’s Story, you can find that information in the show notes for this episode at


Hanna:                   [00:25:38.67] And if you know someone, introvert or extrovert, who could benefit from some of Steve’s insights, someone who is an introvert, manages an introvert, tell them about today’s episode and share the link to the show and leave a positive review on your podcast app so others can learn about what Steve has to share. You could do that at


Hanna:                   [00:26:04.95] You have been listening to Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and I hope you have a great day and an even better tomorrow.

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Guest: Steve Friedman

Steve FriedmanSteve Friedman is determined to champion a more authentic and successful life for introverts.

After struggling for decades as an introvert in the corporate world, he began to learn about introversion while writing his memoir, In Search of Courage: An Introvert’s Story. Friedman now provides inspirational posts, insightful quizzes, and informational resources for introverts at work and at home through his weekly blog at

He met his love, Jennifer, in Houston, Texas. Together, they have raised three amazing children, Gwendolyn, Madolyn, and Noah. They have all traveled the world and are now enjoying time hanging around the house together. 

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