Lessons Learned: How to drink from a fire hydrant

LL anissa
Anissa Basnayake/The Occidental

My mom likes to say that sometimes life is like trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant. I think this is her way of saying, “Life can be hard but you got this!” even if in the moment I am left there without the same zealousness she finds from the words. When I came to Oxy, I had only one real goal: say “yes” to anything and everything — what else are you supposed to do when exploring a new frontier of your life? So I did; I joined clubs like the South Asian Students Association, Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Association, declared too many majors and minors, explored all around LA and by mere chance, joined The Occidental as an illustrator.

And so I illustrated, I became a photo editor with my partner in crime at the time, Grace Meadows, and worked as a layout editor; everything was peaceful and tranquil until — hold up — I’m the managing editor for Fall 2022?

The consequence of saying “yes” seemed to have flown me a bit too close to the sun.

At the time, I could not even fathom that being managing editor would lead to being editor-in-chief, as is customary of the role, and I was mainly overwhelmed with the fact that someone who hadn’t written a single article, but had a knack for organization and managing people, wound up in this position. I will admit, the summer of 2022 left me with a lot of sleepless nights, with “oh my gosh what have I done” racing through my mind, and this thought persisted throughout the fall semester. So much doubt and years and years of a lack of confidence exponentially built up.

Growing up, I remember the first time I could read street signs and storefronts. For most people, this is a normal occurrence, but for 8-year-old me, I was ecstatic. For years, I had lingered around a kindergarten-reading level, my peers surpassing me as I humbly enjoyed my Tinkerbell books while they read about Percy Jackson. It took me some time to not only catch up cognitively but also nurture my self-esteem. Throughout middle school and high school, while I would earn high grades in advanced and AP classes, I never felt as though I was really supposed to be there, especially when there were “smarter,” “faster,” (louder, prouder) students in the class. Never mind that I was as smart as my peers, it was more — and to some extent, still is — a total lack of confidence about my intellectual and academic prowess. That’s why when I came to Oxy, I told myself that I was arriving at a clean slate. Oxy was a time to reinvent those parts of myself that came up short and say yes to anything that came up.

It worked until the fall of sophomore year: I did well in classes, made new friends, had fun with clubs, worked as managing editor, but it all felt as though I was attempting to prove someone wrong. Everything was less about enjoying the process and more about being seen as capable so that everyone who ever questioned my competence would be blown away. Yet the thing is, those people didn’t really care! And so there I was, on paper, academically thriving, managing editor going swimmingly, but something was still very off. At first, drinking from the fire hydrant was a source of power, I could say, “look at me! I’m doing great, I can withstand the force of the fire hydrant!” but it was draining and lacked any true passion.

Over winter break, I made another resolution upon my return to Oxy: have fun. And I can say that unequivocally, I have. Saying yes to everything got me in quite a peculiar situation, which is made even stranger as I say goodbye to a semester of being editor-in-chief of The Occidental this spring and turn the paper over to my managing editor Mia Anzalone, who will learn her own lessons next fall as a marvelous, show-stopping, wonderful editor-in-chief. This past year has taught me more than I could have ever figured out myself; the fire hydrant fully slapped me in the face and told me what’s what. I now know that anything I put my mind to, I can accomplish. It may not be perfect, but I am capable and smart, and I know when to ask questions and who to ask for help. However, I also know that viewing your worth through the lens of your achievements is a viscous ouroboros.

In the wise words of my idol, Leslie Knope from “Parks and Recreation”, “We have to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles and work. Or waffles, friends, work. But work has to come third.”

I don’t see myself saying “no” anytime soon; that seems far too boring for my taste. And I welcome any scheming fire hydrants out there, but moving forward, I encourage myself and everyone to be kind to themselves. There is nothing you need to do to prove your worth, nothing you need to do to earn your place, and while that is easier said than done, know that where there is a fire hydrant, there is probably a perfectly fine and completely normal water fountain nearby as well.

Contact Anissa Basnayake at basnayake@oxy.edu


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