Emily Beyda on the Digital Detox and Being Kind to Yourself

Noodle Expert Emily Beyda discusses the importance of digital detoxing and doing one nice thing for yourself each day.

Noodle Expert Emily Beyda discusses the importance of digital detoxing and doing one nice thing for yourself each day.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

My first response to this question was a laundry list of famous people I would love to be tutored by — sure, I’d love to hang around with Socrates in the Agora or have feminist writing workshops with Georges Sand.

But the truth is, in my own life, I’ve found that the best teachers aren’t necessarily the ones we might pick for ourselves. We can learn the most important lessons from someone we might even initially be suspicious or dismissive of, whose experiences and areas of expertise are entirely alien to us. Often, the best teacher is someone who can teach us a lesson that we didn’t even realize we needed to learn, someone who can take us in new directions we never imagined exploring — that is, a teacher who challenges us to radically expand our horizons.

So, who would be the best teacher for me? I certainly won’t know her when I see her!

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

Whenever I’m feeling stressed about a particular project or goal I’m trying to accomplish, my mother always gives me the same advice: Make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

It’s so important to take some time out of every day to do one nice thing for yourself, something as simple as getting out of the house for a walk, sitting down with a good book, or if you’re me, going out for ice cream! Taking 10 or 20 minutes to deliberately not think about work gives you space to breathe and keeps you from feeling overwhelmed. And as a bonus, it’s often how I find my best ideas.

Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?

Since I work in Los Angeles, most of my students are confirmed city-kids who can drive a car, navigate public transportation with ease, and do pretty much anything involving the Internet. But they have no connection with life outside the digital sphere.

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old lady, this is a problem that is becoming more and more common in our increasingly technological society. The Internet is an amazing tool that enriches the lives of my students in countless ways — but it can also be a stressful and limiting space.

If I could send any of my students away for a month, it would be on a digital detox to spend time somewhere beautiful and interesting without access to their devices. I believe that taking space from the "Sturm und Drang" of the Internet is necessary to maintain sanity, nurture creativity, and keep yourself from overdosing on negative YouTube comments.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

On my first attempt applying to grad school, I didn’t get into any of my top choices and ended up spending a semester in a low-residency program (a type of offering that combines distance learning and brief periods on campus). While it was wonderful in many ways, it wasn’t at all what I was looking for. It was scary to reapply once I had already committed time, energy, and finances to following one path. Ultimately, though, I ended up somewhere that was a much better fit for me, both creatively and structurally.

I learned that there is no such thing as an irreversible choice when it comes to education. If you’re unhappy in your neighborhood school, look into charters and magnets. If you start getting a bachelor's in English literature but discover that your true passion is mechanical engineering, switch majors. Change is always overwhelming, but there’s no point investing your educational resources in something you’re not absolutely passionate about.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

I started to teach writing thanks to an amazing teacher, who also got me my first job working for a literary nonprofit in Los Angeles. I remember being completely terrified before my first class, thinking that, since I was working with a group of reluctant writers, the experience was going to be an uphill battle. I worried that I would be forcing my students to work hard at something they weren’t particularly interested in, which would result in a painful and not particularly productive experience for all concerned.

Fortunately, I’ve found that getting students to write — and to be enthusiastic about it — is actually much easier in a group setting. Once we establish a routine of sharing and being supportive of each other's work, forming a safe space for creative expression, I find that even the most reluctant writers will get on board!

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