We’re in full control of living the life we want. For New York-based Designer Ayse Birsel, that realization hit during the global financial crash in 2008. When her work suddenly wasn’t wanted by firms, she went through a period of self-reflection to determine what mattered most in her life and work. This process resulted in her book, Design the Life You Love, and she’s been committed to helping people realize their life potential since. “My goal is to get people to imagine a life that is coherent with their values, an original life that feels true to them,” said Birsel. “This is an incredible challenge, but in design challenges are also opportunities. We can design our own roadmap, and make our own rules.”
In our recent conversation, Birsel shared how she regained her identity, her advice for people who say they’re too busy to learn, and how to stop “wishing” and start “doing” what we want in life:
YouInc: What would you tell your 14-year-old self about living a life you love?
Ayse Birsel: I would tell myself, your life is our biggest project. Take the time to think about it playfully and without judgement of right or wrong. Because if you can visualize the life you love, you can make what you visualize happen--it’s the same as design when you sketch a new chair or a new dress.
YI: I read that you had an identity crisis during the 2008 financial crash. What emotions did you need to work through?
AB: I felt lost. I felt like who I was and what I had to offer wasn't needed. Design is my purpose. Having a sense of purpose makes us feel useful. I see design as problem solving, and this was one problem I didn't know how to solve. I felt frustrated. The way out was to continue to work and design even in the absence of clients. Working on my process became my purpose.
YI: What routines or habits did you develop to regain your identity?
AB: One of my oldest friends and collaborators, Leah Caplan, suggested I use the time to think about how I think, because she said, “you think differently.” That was a lifeline; at least one person believed in how I thought. I started to think about how I think, and it was like a journey into my creative self. I sketched, mapped, and wrote about how I go from what I know today to what I can imagine for tomorrow. We called the process that slowly emerged, Deconstruction: Reconstruction, and it has become the backbone of how we work today to co-design with our team, clients, and users. It also led to Design the Life You Love, which is my process applied to life.
YI: What’s your advice for people who say they’re too busy to learn?
AB: Part of designing anything, a life or a product, is understanding that you cannot have everything. There is not enough time, resources, or energy to do everything. So, what are your priorities, the building blocks you want to have in the life you love? If your children are a big part of the life you love, you will learn things with or for your children. If cooking is the joy of your life, you will learn new recipes or about new cultures and their cuisine.
YI: “I wish I could be on holiday still.” “I wish I could just quit this job.” “I wish I made more money.” How do we evolve our thinking beyond wishing to take action on what we want in life?
AB: Often we wish things without really considering them. Designing your life is about breaking your own preconceptions and identifying your true values. The “Heroes” exercise in the book is incredibly moving and powerful in this respect. It helps people to reconnect with their values, and reminds them what really matters--they’re asked to think about people they admire or want to emulate as their inspiration. Once you know your values, you can make choices based on them and transform your life.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that people are extraordinarily creative. You don't need to be a designer to design your life, you only need to think like a designer. Design is about optimism, it’s about collaboration, and it’s about seeing the big picture. I see life from the lens of design, and I have learned that when people have a design for their life, they are excited by it. They want to bring their design to life.
To learn more, watch Ayse Birsel’s TEDx Talk: