35 Under 35: Willow Werlein, Staffing Programs Specialist, AgCountry Farm Credit Services

Written by: Brady Drake

Tell us about yourself. Tell us who you are and what you do.

Howdy! I was born and raised in Bemidji, MN, along with my two younger sisters, and relocated to the Fargo-Moorhead area to attend NDSU in 2016. By the time I was graduating in late 2019, the FM area had charmed me into staying here permanently! Currently, I am working as the Staffing Programs Specialist on the Human Resources team at AgCountry Farm Credit Services. I am lucky to work with amazing, knowledgeable teammates and be a part of the Farm Credit system. I have been in this role for just over one year, and it has given me a much stronger appreciation for our farmers and ranchers in rural America, who help feed the world from right here in our backyard!

Outside of work, the past year has been one of many big milestones— last June, I got married to my husband (Nick) surrounded by friends and family in Detroit Lakes, and in August, we bought our first home in Glyndon, MN! Being that we were both raised in small towns (although Nick would argue that Bemidji is a city compared to his little hometown of Hawley), we’ve agreed that we love being able to live in a smaller community like Glyndon. However, we also love being able to still have access to a metro area full of opportunities and entertainment right down the road. We already have big plans to start our vegetable garden this summer in our new yard!

Who are some people who have been influential in your journey and why? Who inspires you?

Both of my parents have been hugely influential in who I am, and I find myself referencing how they did things more and more as I age. My mom, Genny, truly has a heart for others. She has worked as a middle school lunch lady for nearly 20 years and goes out of her way to find small ways to connect with the children she interacts with and brighten their days and let them know that they are seen and cared for.

My dad, Rob, has been a sounding board for years (especially after moving away from home) when I needed advice, wisdom, or a different perspective than my own. I have always admired my dad’s “get ‘er done” attitude in life. Sometimes things will be challenging, stressful, or confusing, but there really is no option besides pressing forward, even if it’s into the unknown.

What drives you?

I am driven by an internal desire to be an even better me—I want to push myself to keep improving and seize new opportunities so I don’t have to look back and ever wonder “What if I had tried harder?” I would rather know that I gave my best effort, even if I didn’t get as far as I wanted, rather than look back and wish that I had truly challenged myself. My faith also drives me. Particularly in harder times, when I don’t feel the internal push, spiritual faith is what continues to refuel my energy. For myself, personally, it is comforting to know that when I feel that life has tired me out, I can lean on my faith and know that I am not pushing forward alone.

Tell us about 1-2 books, podcasts, or professional development experiences that have changed the way you view leadership.

Every time I pick up “Thriving On Chaos” by Tom Peters, I feel that I learn something new. This book was originally published in the 80s, but I feel that’s only a testament to its quality. While a few of the lessons and practices are now outdated, most have stood the test of time and are still just as applicable now as the day the book was written.

What do you think can be improved in our business community?

I remember the stress I felt as college graduation drew near and I didn’t have employment lined up yet, which I think is a shared experience for many students about to enter the workforce. I would love to see more students connected with mentors or job shadows at local businesses so their talent could stay and grow within the FM area after graduation!

What are some important life lessons you have learned?

You will find more success and fulfillment from getting up and making life happen, rather than waiting for life to happen to you. I have a passive personality, I do not like conflict, and I used to think that if I sat quietly and did my best work, opportunities would just present themselves when others noticed I was ready for them. Sometimes that might work, but often it does not. Don’t sit and wait in the hopes that you will be noticed or “picked”—actively vocalize your goals and ambitions, seek out and seize opportunities as they present themselves, don’t wait for someone else to confirm that you are enough—make it known that you are enough right now.

What are some of your favorite things to do in our community?

I look forward to attending annual and seasonal events like the Unglued Fall Retreat and the Red River Market every year! I also appreciate that there are more mixed-use venues popping up, like Brewhalla, that can offer a variety of activities (many for all ages) under one roof. One of my favorite aspects of the Fargo-Moorhead area is that it has the friendly, familiar attitude of a small town while offering the resources and opportunities of a larger city.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years, I hope to remain in Farm Credit, ideally in a managerial or leadership role. I also hope to maintain a healthy work-life balance and foster current and new friendships in those years. In 10 years, I hope I can look back and confidently say I used my time well, gained knowledge and experience, and feel fulfilled with the trajectory I am on for the next 10 years. I also hope to have visited at least five states and/or countries I have not yet seen!

What are you hoping to gain from the United Way 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program?

Honest, authentic fellowship time with like-minded women in my community. Growing up with only sisters, there is a certain comradery and connection from spending time surrounded by other women that is so valuable and energizing for me—we can understand each other’s challenges and celebrate each other’s successes in a powerful way, because even coming from different backgrounds and industries, we face many of the same obstacles.

What are your passions outside of work?

Spending time outdoors has become a major focus for me in recent years. After starting my first full-time office job, I couldn’t figure out why I constantly felt fatigued, and why my social battery never felt fully charged. I initially thought my body just needed time to adjust, but eventually realized it was actually my body telling me that I needed time outside with natural light and fresh air—something I had always taken for granted growing up in Lake Country. I now make a conscious effort to spend time outdoors as much as possible, even if just for a few minutes, to keep myself balanced and refreshed. In the summers, you will find Nick and I at Buffalo River State Park, Itasca, or hiking along the North Shore!

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.