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It took years for Larissa Kravanja to stop feeling like an imposter. The INROADS scholarship and University of Virginia undergraduate degree didn’t do it. The full ride and law degree from New York University (NYU) didn’t either.
The daughter of Cuban and Slovenian parents grew up in a family where secondary education was a rarity, almost nonexistent. However, Kravanja’s family rallied to help her achieve a new level of success. And, while incredibly driven, it took a long time for the now vice president and counsel at First American Title Insurance Company to feel like she belonged in the career she was carving out for herself.
“I just didn’t have many models to follow early in my life,” Kravanja remembers. “That probably isn’t unique for first-generation immigrants but, at some point, I had to ask myself, ‘how many degrees and great jobs do I need to have before I feel like I’m not tricking everyone around me?’”
Part of that insecurity stemmed from Kravanja’s ambition outpacing her knowledge of exactly what field she wanted to pursue. Without career paths to emulate, she thought of success almost only in terms of a few jobs: doctor, lawyer, engineer, or teacher. It’s a common viewpoint of many first-generation immigrants, and one the lawyer-to-be would eventually outgrow.
Kravanja reluctantly applied to law school, but in the meantime, allowed herself to examine other possibilities. One stood out: real estate. “That was the moment it really clicked for me,” the VP and counsel says. “Within two weeks I quit my job, I got my real estate license, and started doing residential work in New York City. No one told me there was more money on the commercial side, but I really loved it.”
There was just one problem: just months after discovering her passion, Kravanja received a full ride to NYU School of Law. Fortunately, she knew she would be able to combine her newfound passion with a law degree. Kravanja ended up practicing real estate law for some heavy hitter firms in the space, but five years ago, she had another realization.
The parts she loved the most about her job were the sales, deals, and relationships. That’s where First American Title came in. It offered a chance to lean into all the parts of real estate law that motivate Kravanja the most.
“In terms of my client base and the growth I’ve experienced, it’s been pretty good,” the lawyer said. In addition to her day-to-day responsibilities, Kravanja was named to First American Title’s executive sales council where she influences and motivates junior employees in their careers. And, while she imparts helpful hints and advice, there’s one underlying motivator that has driven Kravanja her entire career.
“There is always someone who’s going to be smarter and better connected than you,” she explains. “But no one is going to be able to compete with you if you’re a hard worker. I’ve always believed I could outwork those around me, and that’s a belief you need to have for yourself.”
Advocacy also plays a significant role in Kravanja’s approach to developing others. The lawyer firmly believes it’s imperative to cultivate relationships where one can feel like they have people looking out for them, whether it be academic or professional. They don’t have to be significant decision-makers; they just have to care.
Seeking out those kinds of mentors has been essential in Kravanja’s career, as she didn’t have people around her whose careers she could learn from. “When you try to surround yourself with people who are hardworking and committed to building relationships, I think you begin to emulate their success,” she says. “Whether it’s just a conversation or a coffee, just try and interact with people you admire. It might just be one conversation, but it can make all the difference.”
There is a drive in Kravanja that she attributes to being the child of immigrants as she seeks to improve not only her own life, but also the lives of those around her. Despite all her success, her ambition remains fierce, and she is emboldened to set even bigger goals for herself.
“I just don’t know how to turn it off,” Kravanja said, laughing. “I’m always going to keep pushing and keep growing. If you spend your whole life as an ambitious first-generation American, I think it can just become part of who you are.”