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Episode 183: Relaunching in Real Estate and Academia After a Divorce, with Samantha Kranyak

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Episode Description

After a divorce and becoming a single parent, Samantha Kranyak was looking to relaunch close to home in order to gain financial independence and provide stability and consistency for her family. Sam shares how she first went into real estate, then added an adjunct teaching role at a nearby university and was later offered the opportunity to join the university as a non-tenure track professor, which is full time. We originally connected with Sam when she wrote to us to let us know our iRelaunch Return to Work Conference and Back on the Career Track Book “were instrumental in helping me rediscover myself as a newly divorced woman who had given up a wonderful financial business to stay home. I walked away with a polished resume, a story to share with potential employers regarding my work gap, and more confidence after being MIA from the workplace for a few years.” It is gratifying to know our Conference and resources were valuable to Sam at a critical time, and we want to extend our thanks to Sam for getting in touch and sharing her story.

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Today, we welcome Samantha Kranyak. Sam wrote to us to let us know our iRelaunch Return to Work Conference and Back on the Career Track book were, "Instrumental in helping me rediscover myself as a newly divorced woman who had given up a wonderful financial business to stay home. I walked away with a polished resume, a story to share with potential employers regarding my work gap and more confidence after being MIA from the workplace for a few years." A single parent, Sam was seeking opportunities in a company close to home in order to provide stability and consistency for her family.

Sam told us her inspiring story about first going into real estate and later making her real estate work supplemental to her job at Widener University as a non-tenure track professor, which is full time with benefits. And we're going to hear more about that. Sam, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Samantha Kranyak: Thank you, Carol, I'm so happy to be here.

Carol Fishman Cohen: We're very happy to be talking to you about a whole range of topics. And I want to know if you can start by first telling us, what did your career look like before your career break?

Samantha Kranyak: It was very full. I was a very busy, relatively young professional. I had started in public accounting right out of college, and then went into corporate America in accounting as well. I did some internal auditing work for the company, and then I moved into supply chain finance and went back and got my master's degree. I made a little bit of a transition after my master's into financial advising.

I obtained security licenses, my insurance licenses, and then had a very thriving practice. It was growing, I was quite busy with that career for a few years, which then got me involved in community activities where I would be networking and I served on various boards. I did that for quite some time.

So, I was very busy. I was probably out networking and working with clients six to seven days a week, and it was just very fulfilling. I'm definitely someone who enjoys a good challenge and career activities are things that provide a lot of satisfaction for someone like me.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So, with all of that going on, what led to your career break and how long were you on career break?

Samantha Kranyak: It was a tough decision to make. It was really not something I had planned to do, Carol. I really thought that I would be able to balance it all, but when I did take the career break, I was serving on various boards, I had become a president of a local Rotary chapter. And then subsequent to that, right before I left the workforce, I was an Assistant Governor for Rotary. I mentored clubs in the local community and was like the communication person for the district. And as I was thinking about how I was going to balance it all with a husband at the time who also had a very busy career, we just looked at each other and said, "Who's going to pick up the baby from daycare at six o'clock?" So for us, it was more about, "How are we going to be really good parents and being able to be there for our kids or at the time," just the one I should say, "how can we be there for our child and still be able to manage everything?"

And that was really tough. For me to walk away from everything I had been doing, that was not an easy decision for me or for my husband at the time.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yep, as a relauncher myself, I understand that directly. I remember wrestling with the same issues in my own case. So, you're on career break, actually, how many years were you on career break?

Samantha Kranyak: I was on break for four years.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And then you told us when we had spoken earlier that you "unexpectedly" ended up in real estate, and that was the beginning of your relaunch. How did that happen? What was the unexpected part?

Samantha Kranyak: Absolutely. So, when we had first talked, I mentioned that my relaunch was really due to a divorce situation. I probably would have stayed home a few more years, had my personal circumstances not changed. And so what I did was, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my career and how I was going to make a comeback if you will, which is really, you know, why your conference was so instrumental.

And you mentioned that in the intro where I gained a lot of valuable information from your conference. So, as I was thinking about everything I learned from the conference and I was making connections, I reached out to a very dear friend of mine who had been in real estate for many years, at that point, probably 25 years or more. And she is someone that I trust, and I value her opinion. As we were talking about possible career paths, and she being a parent herself, mentioned that real estate is a very good career choice for someone who wants to balance everything career and a family. And so being a single parent, that's really primarily why that was so attractive to me.

Now, what I did when I got back from your conference was I did interviews with a lot of companies and firms in the Philadelphia area. And for me, I just felt like I was just distance wise, too far away from my children should they need me, because at that point I had two sons that I had to take care of.

And so anyway, so talking to my dear friend, she's the one who got me into real estate. And so I did that for about five years while I balanced my job and family.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That commute question is so important and commute becomes a big part of the equation when people are making decisions about relaunching.

I understand how, as enticing some of these corporate opportunities might have been, sometimes the commute is just too long. And also I hear what you're saying about the real estate option giving you a certain amount of control, even though I'm guessing it ended up being a lot of hours, you had some control over when those hours were spent.

So, can you give us a little bit of background about how long you were in the real estate business? How did it work out for you? How did you even learn the business in the first place? And were you feeling like you got better at it quickly or was it a long process?

Samantha Kranyak: Oh, a lot of great questions. Yeah, I would say that with anything that's new, you have to take training and you have to educate yourself.

And so this was a very different world for me in real estate, very foreign to me, compared to where I had been in the past and things I had done in the past. And so it did take probably a good two years to really feel solid and feel very successful in that, then it just really took off from there.

And I did it full time for about five years or so, and I was rocking and rolling after a while and I really enjoyed it. I love working with clients. I'm very service-oriented by nature. And so it was something that I had a lot of fulfillment with when it came to working with clients.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And did you learn the business from shadowing other real estate agents? Or, I know you have to get a real estate license, but how do you actually learn all the parts of the process completely apart from knowing your market and the actual properties that you're showing?

Samantha Kranyak: You do have to get a license. So what I did was I took classes that were required, there were two licensing exams that I had to pass in order to get the license. And then my firm at the time did provide some shadowing opportunities and some training classes in especially systems, and contracts. Contracts are very big, because real estate's a highly litigious industry.

You have to be very mindful of what you're putting on paper, because it could come back to bite you if you don't do it the right way.

And so I just took all the available training that I could. I asked a lot of questions, but the reality is, Carol, as with anything you just learn on the job. And then if you make mistakes, you learn from them. The more experience you have, the more polished you become and the better you become at the job. But the thing with real estate, I will say too, is that no deal is ever the same. So you feel like you're just constantly learning something new because every deal is different than the last. And that's just, it's just the way it is. It's the nature of the business.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you talk to us, I know that teaching at the university level became part of what you were doing and now is the dominant part, but when you first started doing it, how did that happen at the beginning, and did you make a conscious decision that you were going to try to do both? Or how were you thinking about that when the, I guess I'll say the opportunity, and you can talk to us about it, came up in terms of starting the teaching career?

Samantha Kranyak: Yeah. Opportunities are interesting, right? Because sometimes you're looking for them and then you fall into something. And in this case, I wasn't looking for it and it just happened. And it was my mistake in how it happened. So I was having a conversation via Facebook messaging with someone who was a former professor of mine, who is actually now a colleague at this university, at Widener University, where I currently teach. And we were just going back and forth, and somehow I have no idea how, I just somehow thought that she was asking me if I would have some interest in teaching. And teaching had been mentioned in there, but she wasn't asking me that question. I assumed it was because she knew that I had some teaching experience at the university level, but that was some years ago. And she said, "I didn't really ask you that, that's good to know."

And what's really interesting about opportunities is that not even five weeks later, do I get a call from another one of my colleagues currently, mentioning that a faculty member had to go out on emergency medical leave and would I be interested in filling in for the rest of the semester, which was mid-September. That was on a Friday afternoon, I remember it. I was in the real estate office going crazy with phone calls, it was wild. And I said, "Okay, okay." I really, I didn't know what to say. I said, "When do you need me?" "Monday." I'm thinking, "I have a lot to organize before I show up on Monday," but I was very excited.

And I'll tell you by that next week on Wednesday, I was in the classroom and that's how it happened. It was just a freak thing. And it was a misunderstanding on my part that turned into an opportunity.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's why I said opportunity almost in quotes when I asked you the question. And let me now just get into the details here. So, you find out on a Friday, they want you to start teaching the following week. Can you tell us what the course was? How did you know how to teach? Were you simply, not simply, where you handed the teaching notes and all the materials from the professor and you taught that other professor's course as best you could?

Or how did that work?

Samantha Kranyak: Luckily I did teach this course before at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. But when I taught there some years ago, this is the exact same course I taught. But I hadn't taught it using the materials at my current university. And so I went in there that following week on, I believe it was Monday, I went in on that Monday, and was given the binder, the materials, and just some guidance on where the students were at that point, because they were in school at that point for about four weeks. So, I just had to go into the classroom, introduce myself and I wouldn't say learn as I go, but, I didn't know the students at that point, they didn't know me and they weren't expecting me.

So, a big challenge was really not the material because it was introductory accounting. It wasn't tough for me, not tough accounting, it was the introductory level. I had done that for many years, I taught it before. But it was about connecting with the students and getting them to connect with me because they just weren't expecting that big change at that time.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. And how did this progress? So, you taught this course and then did you continue to teach a course a semester? Or how did it evolve from there?

Samantha Kranyak: Yeah, so then, so that was in the fall of 2016 and I just figured I would be finished after that first semester. And then, I was asked if I would like to teach again that following semester, so I taught another course. And then the fall of 2017, I can't quite remember which semester it was, but I believe that was the semester I taught two courses. I then taught another level of accounting. And then the following semester I taught one or two courses. It started to become a routine where I would go back each semester, just as needed, "if you need me, I'm here."

And I really enjoyed it. I began to really connect with the students, I really enjoyed being with students. I just kept doing that up until last year when a full-time opportunity opened up, and then there were some changes as a result of that.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay, so this is so interesting to me because you're getting into this new routine. What is happening in the meantime with the real estate side of what you're doing?

Samantha Kranyak: That's still going, but I'm going crazy in my head, as you can imagine. So I'm trying to juggle a lot of balls at the same time. And while I was teaching one to two classes, I could easily do the real estate, that was not an issue. Again, I was still working seven days a week for the most part. And real estate is something that goes 24/7, because contracts expire at midnight. It's 11:59 PM and I'm trying to close a deal or negotiate something, so it's all the time.

And I have to tell you, I really didn't get a lot of sleep while I was trying to do both, but the real estate was still there while I was doing this part time. But then once I transitioned into full-time, I then had to make a different decision, otherwise, I wouldn't be able to continue at that pace.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And can you talk about what was going on at home during this time? Were your kids old enough at that point that they were more independent, and what were the conversations with them?

Samantha Kranyak: Yeah, it's funny. I'd like to go back a little bit because when I did go back into the workforce, my oldest was only four at the time. But when I told him that I was going to work, and this is when I was going to go into real estate, he said, "Mommies don't work," because he was so used to me being home. Well, I fixed that little red wagon because he learned very quickly that I do work a lot! And the question you just asked is really an interesting one because they have seen, and they continue to see the amount of time and effort it takes to be a working professional and they understand that.

I have been very fortunate, I don't have a nanny, she's not on call, but I have someone who is pretty much there anytime I need her since 2013. I can only recall one time that she's never been available with my crazy schedule to be able to help out. Yeah. That's how I, that's how I've managed it.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Interesting, and so when you changed from the real estate schedule and then real estate plus the adjunct teaching, and then moving to this full-time role at the university, was that sort of happening in parallel with kids progressing on their own, whatever they were doing at home, and getting older? And was that sort of, was there something intentional about that timing or it just worked out that way?

Samantha Kranyak: One hundred percent intentional. It's almost like it was meant to happen at the right time because you know what I realized that, as my children were getting older and they were becoming more independent and getting involved in activities that bring them joy and happiness, I can't force my life on them and not allow them to develop and explore things that they would like to do. Where things started to become a little bit more challenging with real estate was, I couldn't go to soccer games on the weekends or other birthday parties, I don't want my children to miss birthday parties.

And so when this full-time position came up, it was just perfect timing because then I realized that, "Okay, I can still do the real estate and just restructure that in a way that it supplements this full-time position." And while I do work a lot in academia, there's a lot to do. It's more conducive to family life. Even if I do have to work on the weekends, my family is with me. I don't have to have a sitter come. I can work around them. I can go to games. I can take them to their activities, parties and things like that. And so it just, what it does is it just creates a much calmer space for us all to live in, and we all feel like we're being successful in the things that you know, that we want to be involved in.

Carol Fishman Cohen: How old were your kids when you switched to the teaching full-time?

Samantha Kranyak: So my oldest was ten and my youngest was seven.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And did you have any conversations with them when that happened? "My work situation is changing now and we have to figure out how routines and things get done around the house." Or was it more or less seamless from their perspective?

Samantha Kranyak: Now, that's a great question too, because I'm a very open person. I think communication and getting other perspectives is extremely important, even from young children. I'm not a "they should be seen and not heard" kind of person.

And so they were very much a part of my real estate lifestyle. They would help me stuff envelopes, or make copies and scan things. They were very helpful with that business, they were very much a part. I would take them to the office, my oldest son liked to make coffee for me, and so it was a lifestyle for all of us.

When I told them I was making that change, I had to explain to them why I thought that this change would benefit all of us. And they were able to understand that because they did understand that, mom couldn't be at certain things or they couldn't do certain things that they wanted to do because of my job.

And so I just talked to them and I said, "I am going to need you to work with me on this and express to me how you feel." "What are some of the pros," well I didn't say pros and cons, but, "what makes you feel good about this decision? What are some of your concerns about this decision? And then let's talk about it." And we did, and they're very supportive.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love how you brought your kids into your work environment. We talk sometimes about bringing your kids into the relaunch process, so they're there alongside you as you're moving forward whether there are setbacks or whether there's things to celebrate.

And even after you relaunch, you're showing an example of, you had your kids do what they could do, what was appropriate for them, making coffee or stuffing envelopes, but they were involved in your work. And I think that is such a smart thing to do to the extent that you can do it.

I know not all jobs allow for that. But was that something that just happened or did you think, "If I bring them along and have them be more actively engaged, they'll understand better they'll be more invested,” what was your thought process there?

Samantha Kranyak: That's exactly, you hit it right on the head, Carol. It was because of the nature of that industry, where you're just constantly on the go, it was just my way of making them feel like they're connected to me. And they wouldn't feel so distant, especially because, especially on the weekends, they would spend a lot of time with the sitter.

And I have to be honest and say, there's that guilt. I'd have that guilt where I had to go back to the workforce and I couldn't be home with them any longer, and it was such a big change for them. And so how can I make them feel more comfortable and not feel so disjointed, and not connected to what's going on? And so that was something that was really important to me, which is one of the main reasons, not just commute, but one of the main reasons why I didn't think at that time, me taking a job that would have a commute of fifty minutes from home and not really being able to be there a little bit more with them, or at least, physically close to them, is really what got me into thinking about real estate as something that would work during that period or that season in my life.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And now that you're working at Widener, do they know what it means when you go to work? Have you brought them to the university? Are they familiar with the environment, or how did you manage that transition with them?

Samantha Kranyak: Yeah, I don't take them as much, but I have, especially if I'm teaching in the summer it's much more casual and laid back. I've had to do some evening things where, believe it or not, I would go from the university and I would go for about forty minutes, pick them up from daycare and then have to take them back for an evening event because, for whatever reason, I just had to do that. But that's few and far between. That's really interesting too, because it also gets them ready for higher education. So they're getting to see what their future can be and they understand the importance of continuing education.

And they've been to the university, they've met most of my colleagues, and they like to see the older kids. It's exciting, especially for my oldest, who is just a few years away from going to college himself, so he kind of gets to see his future.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Sam, can you talk about your thoughts on financial independence and how that evolved for you post divorce?

Samantha Kranyak: Very good question, Carol. That was definitely a big challenge for me coming back as a working professional. I had had a relatively successful career prior to staying home, and then, obviously that switched when I was home, where I was dependent to a certain extent, especially financially. And then post divorce, it took a couple of years to really feel like I was gaining a lot that I had lost by staying home. And there were some emotional times there. It was trying because I knew that I had to be very careful with the approach I took to coming back into the workforce because I have to take care of my children.

I just had to be very mindful that this was not going to be an easy journey. And so it didn't happen overnight where I just bounced back and, I felt like, "Oh, okay, I'm back, and I'm making all this money." That didn't happen for me at first. I had to build that, it took some time. And then I would say probably after about four years or so, I just felt like I was stable again.

And, I'm fine now. But, that was very hard and there were some emotional trials I went through early on, not a very easy process at all.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you for talking to us about that piece of it in a very frank way. We have relaunchers in our community who are making their way back after a divorce or death or disability of a spouse or partner, and it's a tough process. And the idea that you're illustrating the progression and how long it took and how you're feeling along the way is really helpful to people who are in the middle of that or at the beginning. So, thank you. Sam, I want to switch back to talking about an award that you won for teaching, and I know I'm forcing you to brag a little bit here, but I want to know if you can tell our audience about your teaching award and when it was awarded to you and what it was for.

Samantha Kranyak: Okay, Carol and I'm not someone who always feels comfortable in the limelight when it comes to awards and such. I was really very humbled by the award that I received, which was last year, in my first year of teaching full- time, receiving something called the Undergraduate Teaching Award which was given to me for meeting certain standards of quality teaching in the classroom, and creating high, what they call high impact practices for the students involving experiential learning and group work and, taking them on field trips and just trying to really engage the students. And then also, a big factor in this is the student feedback. Because at the end of the semester, the students always provide evaluations of their experience in the classroom. And so my colleagues voted for me to receive that award and I was really shocked. I have to say again, I’m not someone who, getting awards is not something that satisfies me, but, I approach teaching the way I approach working with my clients.

I look at my students just as I would any of the clients I've worked with in the past. I want them to come to the classroom with the highest quality experience and walk away being able to apply the material and understanding what options they have, once they leave my classroom. And yeah, so I received that award last spring and I just, in a way, as I said, it just made me feel like I was achieving some additional success as a relauncher because I hadn't had that in a long time.

Carol Fishman Cohen: A couple of things are jumping out at me. First, I love this concept of the students as clients and thinking about it that way and you're trying to produce the best experience for them. That's very instructive in terms of how to approach teaching or any kind of an educational experience from the standpoint of the teacher or the professor.

And the other thing I wanted to comment on that I love about the award, is that it's this unsolicited independent validation of excellence that, maybe your friends or your family would say, "Oh, I'm sure you do such a great job," but because they know you and they of course know you're putting in a hundred percent and that you would think about your teaching with the students, as clients, as you said.

But, to have that kind of recognition from outside that inner circle in this context, I think is a real validation. And I hear what you're saying, when you said it was like a symbol of success of your relaunch itself. I love it. So we need to wrap up now, Sam and I want to do that by asking you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience even if it's something we've already talked about today?

Samantha Kranyak: Oh, yeah. I think fearlessness is just so important, and I think we can define that in a lot of different ways. But I would just encourage relaunchers to just take a step, even if it's a small step, even if it's one step.

When I went to your conference in New York approximately eight years ago, instead of shaking in my boots, I was shaking in my heels getting on that train, that Amtrak train going to NYU to attend your conference. And I didn't know what to expect. It's just taking that first step, talking to one person, and then you take one step, and then you take two steps, and sometimes you only can get to the third step and you kind of tiptoe.

And then before you know it you're sprinting, right? It's just trying to be fearless in your approach and just getting started somewhere. Because after so many "no's" eventually you're going to get a "yes," eventually a door's going to open. And if it's not the right opportunity, you're going to make a connection somewhere else.

So, it's just trying to have the confidence to take that first step and not be afraid of what's coming.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that advice, and I have to say if anyone is exhibiting fearlessness and illustrating it for us, it's you. So, Sam, thank you so much for your example, for everything that we've talked about today and thanks for joining us.

Samantha Kranyak: Thank you very much, Carol. It was really a pleasure, thank you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Thanks for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chairman co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch conferences and events, to sign up for our job board, and access our return to work tools and resources, go to

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