4 Steps To Designing Your Dream Career

Designer Ayse Birsel shares her principles for how people can manifest their ideal lives.

4 Steps To Designing Your Dream Career
Ayse Birsel, cofounder of design studio Birsel + Seck at the Fast Company Innovation Festival.

“Today, we’re going to put ourselves in our own shoes. And we’re going to be kind to ourselves,” Ayse Birsel urges a room full of busy execs, entrepreneurs, and professionals at the Fast Company Innovation Festival this week.


But the award-winning product designer and cofounder of design studio Birsel + Seck isn’t just advocating for a bit of self-love. She is challenging the audience to use design thinking principles to create the working lives that they want to live, rather than how they feel they have to live.

“Often what we want in work and life are opposites,” Birsel says. But that doesn’t have to be the case. To make your needs and wants coexist, Birsel encourages the audience to follow these four steps:

1. Deconstruct Your Life

Birsel describes the deconstruction phase as “pulling the whole apart.” She plays a short clip from Chef’s Table about Francis Mallmann’s outdoor cooking escapades in Patagonia. Nestled on a remote island, he cooks with a group of apprentices that he called his “gypsy chefs.” Not a single one have worked in a restaurant before, and they cook everything using open fire. Birsel urges the audience to look at Mallmann’s choice to forgo a glamorous big-city chef life through the following lens: data, emotion, constraint, opportunity, out-of-the-box opportunity, and choice.

For Mallman, the data is the location of his adventure, Patagonia. The emotion is passion, and the constraint is the lack of commercial kitchen. The adventure is an opportunity to invent new techniques, and the “out-of-the-box” opportunity is to cook in the wilderness. Ultimately, Mallman’s choice to train novice apprentices in the outdoors with limited equipment is an exercise in doing what he loves and where he loves it, says Birsel.

Ayse Birsel

2. Change Your Point Of View

The next step is to shift your perspective. Birsel says it’s about saying to yourself, “I admit I don’t know what I’m doing, so I’ll go out and learn.” She encourages attendees to conduct what she calls “wrong thinking.” As she previously wrote for the Harvard Business Review, “wrong thinking is when you intentionally think of the worst idea possible–the exact opposite of the accepted or logical solution, ideas that can get you laughed at or even fired–and work back from those to find new ways of solving old problems.”


Birsel cites an example of a previous workshop attendee to illustrate her point. Mickey McManus–a senior advisor at BCG and visiting research fellow at Autodesk–once asked his intern to be “his boss.” This experiment led to a new research project at Autodesk.

At the outset, this experiment might seem potentially disastrous, but at the same time, applying “the beginner’s mind” to a situation is a great way to develop not-so-obvious solutions, Birsel says.

3. Reconstruct Your Life

Reconstruction is about putting the deconstructed pieces back together and accepting that some of those elements that are currently in your life don’t have a place there anymore. She urges attendees to think about what they want to retain when it comes to their work and personal life, what they want to introduce, and what they want to discard. These qualities, Birsel says, form “the foundation of your life/work.”

4. Express Yourself

Once you have the ingredients for your ideal life, Birsel says, it’s time to give your life a new form of meaning. She encourages attendees to imagine their heroes and the qualities they admired in them. A few minutes later, she urges her audience to see themselves as their own heroes. For Birsel, a person whose qualities she admired is Katy Perry–so she started seeing herself as Katy Perry. However, instead of a singer and a celebrity, she started seeing herself as the “the Katy Perry of Design the Life You Love.”

“I want to teach young people that you can always redesign the life you love,” Birsel insists. It just starts with a dose of self-introspection and optimism.


About the author

Anisa is a freelance writer and editor who covers the intersection of work and life, personal development, money, and entrepreneurship. Previously, she was the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section and the co-host of Secrets Of The Most Productive people podcast.