Spark Serendipity Like Ana Lorena Fabrega
You just quit the one job you thought you were meant to do.
If you really let your mind wander, you might imagine building an online audience of 25,000 followers and landing your dream job in the span of one year.
But that’s exactly what Ana Lorena Fabrega did.
People dream about quitting their job and following their passions but not a lot of people do it. And they certainly don’t reinvent their career in a year.
Ana left her teaching job after five years because she felt constrained by the school system. She stepped into the unknown by writing online and sharing her ideas publicly. She put herself in a position to create opportunities with no guarantee that anything she did would pay off.
Eventually it did pay off when she found herself in a dream role as Chief Evangelist at Synthesis, an online enrichment club where kids learn through games and simulations.
The path of being a creator can feel daunting and lonely. By embracing new and challenging experiences, Ana built momentum from a standing start and found her team. She had faith that something magical was around the corner and kept plugging away until that magic presented itself as a job that was created uniquely for her.
By following her strategy, passionate creatives can be like Ana and do what they love every single day.
While attending NYU, Ana majored in childhood education and special-ed, while minoring in psychology. Even though she got to see the best of the best teachers in practice, she noticed a big lack of engagement from the students. There was more emphasis on what the kids were learning and not if the kids were learning.
In her own classroom, Ana was known to her students as Ms. Fab. She focused on what the kids were already excited about and pushed them further to spark new ideas. She even took it upon herself to skip units that didn’t feel relevant.
Imagine learning personal finance before photosynthesis. The audacity.
Ana inspired her students to follow their curiosities and created the space where learning was fun. But the constraints were challenging. As her students moved on to different grades and different classrooms, Ana watched as they fell out of love with learning.
She could make changes in her classroom but she couldn’t change the system. The system was broken.
Ana had her own definition of a good education:
“A good education is one where kids graduate being extremely aware of what they’re good at, having had plenty of experience creating and building different things, failing and then trying again and getting feedback until they nail something, and having that desire to keep learning.”
None of this was happening in the traditional school system.
There had to be a better way.
So Ana gave up her formal role as a teacher. She was determined to blaze a new trail as a passionate educator outside of the classroom.
Ana didn’t have a plan. She was simply open to any and all opportunities that came her way. So in November 2019 she enrolled in a course called Write of Passage to start building a presence online.
Write of Passage was so much more than a writing course. It was a launching pad to build momentum and gave Ana the tools to share her ideas with the world. She dusted off her dormant Twitter account. She became a citizen of the internet. She went from having no plan, to discovering one.
In her very first newsletter issue sent out in January 2020, Ana shared a quote from David Perell that showcased her faith in the internet to bring forth opportunities:
“People who maximize serendipity balance the humility of not knowing where their next big break will come from with the arrogance of knowing that it will come from somewhere.”
Ana didn’t know what was going to happen. But she embraced the unknown and trusted the process as she connected with a community of like-minded writers across the globe.
It was a month later when I met Ana. She was going through another cohort of Write of Passage - this time as a mentor to students. Namely, me. I was inspired by what she had already accomplished in such a short period of time since taking the course. Where her passion was in education, mine was in writing. Maybe if I put my signal out to the world, serendipitous things could happen for me, too.
Ana became my north star. I knew our paths were different, but I also knew I could learn by following her lead.
Ana’s got Twitter game. Her profile alone is a lesson in using Twitter to your advantage. She asked herself, “What’s my edge? What’s different and interesting about my writing?”
She captured that answer with a catchy snippet for her bio: “I get kids, and kids get me.” She added a cartwheel emoji to give a sense of her playful and childlike personality. And she called herself an “Edupreneur” which described how she built different learning experiences in the alternative education space.
Ana had one goal with her tweets: to get people to think differently about education. Her content was laser-focused on education and she balanced both a playful and provocative tone.
And then in February Ana sent out a tweet that went viral:
The Twitter followers and newsletter subscribers came flooding in.
But the real power of Twitter is not just in viral tweets. It’s in the DMs.
One month before the viral tweet, Chrisman Frank, co-founder and CEO of Synthesis, found Ana on Twitter and subscribed to her newsletter. At this point she had 10 email subscribers, including Mom and Dad.
This illustrates your reach on the internet is far greater than any vanity metric might suggest. You don’t need a huge following. If you’re posting quality content on a consistent basis, you never know who might stumble upon your work. In Ana’s case, she had just attracted the CEO of Elon Musk’s online education company.
Two months after that, Chrisman direct-messaged Ana to meet. During their first talk, Chrisman mentioned a project he was working on that was still in stealth mode. It was called Synthesis and Ana was immediately hooked.
Synthesis is an online community where kids go to become better problem solvers. It offers 1-hour weekly sessions for students aged 8-14. There’s no scripted curriculum or anything to memorize. Students learn mental models, decision making, and communication through complex, collaborative team-based games. Synthesis wants to equip kids with a toolkit for the future, but in a fun way that doesn’t feel like school.
The mission and vision of Synthesis aligned perfectly with Ana’s. (Watch this amazing video Ana made to learn more about the background of Synthesis.)
And it all started with a direct message on Twitter.
Chrisman and Josh Dahn, the other co-founder and creative director of Synthesis, asked Ana to join the founding team as Chief Evangelist. She would be in charge of outreach, representing the company publicly, and sharing their story with the world. They launched in November 2020, exactly one year after Ana enrolled in Write of Passage.
Upon reflection, Ana had this to say,
“It's crazy what this platform can do when you learn how to use it well. It really is a magnet for amazing opportunities and like-minded people.”
Everything had fallen into place for Ana in an unpredictable way.
David Perell explains that by making it easy for people to find you online, you create a vehicle for serendipity.
Ana’s serendipity vehicle led her to join Synthesis. Instead of starting her own company from scratch, she was able to plug in to a visionary company where her creative potential could be fully realized.
David explained what this path looks like:
“You say, ‘I’m not going to be responsible for running this thing because that’s going to take away from my creativity. [Instead you say,] ‘I believe in this, and I can serve as someone who is part of the heart, the soul, the spirit of this company.’”
It’s now been one year since I took Write of Passage and this quote from David made me catch my breath because it’s exactly how I feel. My role in WoP has changed from student to lead alumni mentor.
I never knew there could be a job tailored to my strengths and passions. I initially had hesitations about the job because I didn’t want to be in charge of logistics and making slides and organizing people. But when I voiced my concerns David told me I didn’t have to worry about any of that. All I had to do was focus on what I was good at, which was community, feedback, and writing.
Wait, a job that allows me to focus on the things that bring me joy??? I thought jobs always had trade-offs.
This was a lightbulb moment.
When you create a serendipity vehicle for yourself, you create a literal dream job. Perhaps it’s a job that never existed before. Perhaps you find a team of people that will do whatever they can to enable you to contribute towards a shared vision.
That’s what Chief Evangelist at Synthesis was for Ana. Synthesis allowed her to educate outside the classroom and work with a team of people who’s core values aligned with her own.
A perfect fit.
I don’t want my 7-month-old son to be limited by the traditional education system. I want to foster a playful love of learning. I want him to think for himself and be able to solve real problems. I want to provide the space and conditions for him to create things. And by the time he’s old enough to apply for Synthesis, I hope there will be countless options for fun learning thanks to the work that Ana is doing right now.
But more than that, I want my son to learn from Ana’s journey. I want him to know that by following his passions and building in public, he can live a fulfilled life.
In 2019 Ana felt stuck and alone in a system that did not align with her vision for student education. And in 2020 she was working alongside team members who support and nurture her vision.
I don’t yet know what’s in store for me. There is no definitive goal. There is no plan. But like Ana, I am creating my serendipity vehicle. I will continue to publish weekly content and send out my signal to connect with others. And I welcome whatever’s around the corner.
Much thanks to Michael Dean for feedback on this essay.