Alayna reading to her 18-month-old son, Wyatt.
Every month we'll highlight a reader in the Great Lakes Bay region and learn more about them, their work and their reading life.
For March, we are highlighting Women's History Month and featuring books by and about women. It's so important for women to share our stories. When we do, we lift each other up and provide opportunities for others to rise. A beautiful example of this is Alayna Wesener. She's brave, authentic, driven, kind, wicked creative and community minded. And, I'm fortunate enough to call her a dear friend. Read on to learn how women have played a role in making her what she is today.
How has reading played a role in your life?
From a young age, I used to go to library and take out 7 books a week (the maximum they would allow), read them all and count the days until I could get more. We didn’t have cable or internet and didn’t get a VCR until I was 16 so that was my escape. I remember reading the Baby-Sitter’s Club series about girls starting their own business and loved the Sweet Valley High books. As a young girl from a small rural community with not much to do, I loved the escape.
March is Women’s History Month so we’re exploring and celebrating the power of women in our lives and in the world. How have women played a role in your life?
Women have influenced me in so many ways throughout my life and career. I don’t know who I’d be without Marisa Horak Belotti (from F.P. Horak). She believed in me before I believed in myself. She took me under her wing and pushed me every day to realize my potential. It was more than giving me opportunities; it was her watching how fierce and determined I was and seeing what I could be. So much of who I am today is shaped by watching Marisa lead by example.
While at CMURC, I was inspired by women entrepreneurs. I watched them trailblaze even though they didn’t have it all figured out and were in a constant state of panic. It was a great environment where people encouraged me. Being in that environment is what pushed me to open Sushi Remix. I’ve also been fortunate to work with Julie Ellis at Weinlander Fitzhugh. Her level of encouragement, comfort, and help has been amazing. She looks out for our business and helps us see how we can move our company forward.
Now I’m at McLaren and I love it so much. I’m grateful that Magen Samyn took a chance on me and hired me while I was 37 weeks pregnant. I mean, who even does that? I wasn’t even looking for a position at the time. I was working from home running my own creative agency while my husband, Aaron, was running the restaurants. Now I can’t imagine my life without McLaren. I know I am exactly where I am meant to be. Of course, some days are more challenging that others, especially during the pandemic, but the department I work in is filled with inspiring, nurturing, and helpful women—I can’t imagine my life without them!
And then there are my friends, connections and communities. I love to gather and connect friends and love when they bring a fresh perspective and life experience and so many other friends that aren’t friends with each other. My favorite is when I bring these friends together and they end up loving each other. Basically, I love to collect friendships with interesting and kind humans.
When we worked together, you shared with me your favorite poem that guides your actions:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
Why does it resonate with you so much?
I just don’t want to be that cold and timid soul that will never know victory or defeat. It kills me to pass on an opportunity—especially when I do so because I am afraid I will fail. Where I’ve grown most is doing things that scare me. After having that realization, when I feel uncomfortable and know I don’t know something or I’m not good enough at it, I think, dammit, now I have to do it. Do you know how many times I wanted to quit the restaurant? When I want to run away and quit is when I need to double down and push harder. So far it’s been working out for me.
Women throughout the ages have had to shift their lives because of others and ended up sacrificing their joy and fulfillment. You’ve made some brave decisions to honor yourself and your purpose. Can you share a bit about some changes you’ve made?
Five years ago, I realized I wasn’t being my truest self. I was in a marriage to a great guy who was my friend. To quote Shawshank Redemption, “I needed to start living or start dying.” I was too young to live life full of unfulfilled mediocrity. I had just adopted my nephew and had to move to a different city. I was saying yes to things that I wouldn’t have in the past. When my sister died, I was 332 pounds. I realized I controlled my own future and destiny, so I had a sleeve gastrectomy. Losing my weight changed my marriage and caused a cascade effect that led to another and another. Now, I’m 36 years old and I’ve become pretty fearless. Yes, I have the occasional panic moment where I can’t breathe, but I’ve learned how to get through it. I feel very fortunate to get to this point when I’m 36 and living life and not waking up at 56, or even worse, never, to a life I don’t want.
What key advice has helped you get to where you are today?
Again, it often comes down to someone believing in you. An old co-worker once said to me before my first networking event that all I need are five seconds of confidence to survive any overwhelming situation. Just open the door. Then five more seconds to say, “hi,” to people at the registration table. And, so on. I learned I just had to get through these bite-size interactions. Four years later, I was the chair of this 400-member organization where I previously could barely open the door to go to a luncheon without having a panic attack.
You’re a big believer in education and learning. Pursuing your masters degree in addition to everything else leaves you little time to read for pleasure. But, what’s your favorite book to read to your son?
Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen. It’s the best - we love reading it to Wyatt!
And, your favorite book of all time?
The Partner by John Grisham. I LOVE it. I’ve read it six times.
Look for the Sushi Remix food truck on streets of the Great Lakes Bay region this spring.