Letter to My Younger Self
Dear 16-year-old Swin,
Whew, O.K. … you gotta take a breath, kid. Get it together.
I know Mom just handed you a perfectly rectangular 14-by-8-by-5-inch box covered in brightly colored wrapping paper. And I know you know what that box could have inside. That it might possibly contain some, oh I don’t know … new sneakers! More specifically: Air Jordan 10s. The white ones with the black soles.
The ones you’ve been dreaming about.
Maybe the typical 16-year-old girl celebrating her birthday would be hoping for a diamond necklace or one of those ThinkPads with the built-in CD drive or even their own Audi AWD sedan. But you? You’re definitely not typical. Never have been. You’ve got your heart set on those Jordans — you’d trade a diamond necklace for those things any day. Getting your very own pair would be like bridging the gap between you and MJ as basketball players. It’d mean having the chance to rock what the best player in the game is rocking. And now, you’re maybe just seconds away from all of that.
So I get it. I understand why you’re so amped up.
But before things get too, too hectic, listen to me for just a second. Take a moment to think about where that box came from. How it came to be. Think about the woman responsible for that box, and what’s inside. Think about … Mom.
No matter what this gift ends up being, just know that Mom worked her butt off for it. You know all those hours you spend hooping? Well, quadruple that. And then add a dozen more hours. And you’ll still be shy of how long it took Mom to save up for this gift. That’s what Mom’s doing for you. So when you rip open that wrapping paper, do me a favor and take a few seconds to appreciate not just this present, but all that this woman has done for you over the years.
Then, slip on those Jordans and … begin to dream. Lace them up and dream as big as you possibly can, Swin. Because I’m here to tell you that things are about to get real good, real fast.
You’re not going to believe what’s in store for you.
In the years to come, you’re going to discover opportunities that are far beyond anything you can imagine right now. Before too long, you’ll be an All-America, an NCAA champion and an Olympic gold medalist, and then … get ready for this one … a WNBA champion.
I know that last part probably sounds weird to you, or impossible. But yes, you heard that right — a WNBA champion. Like with a W at the front, as in Women’s.
I’ll get into that later, though. Right now, I just want you to take a look at the way things are here at home, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Let’s start there.
You know how you and your cousins cut out the bottom of that milk crate and nailed it to a telephone pole out in front of the house so you could hoop? That’s actually what I need you to focus on for starters.
Playing basketball with a broken milk crate attached to a telephone pole definitely isn’t glamorous. For some people, it’s not the kind of thing they’d brag about to their friends. But, truth be told, that’s the beauty of the game, Swin. A dreamer can play anywhere. It’s something to be proud of, Swin. It really is. It says a lot about who you are. There’s something undeniably resourceful about doing that, something to be said for finding a way to work with what you have.
Then building out from there. Little by little.
And with you, it’s not just working with what you have, but also with who you have. When it comes to having someone in your corner, you’ll never have to think twice about who it’ll be. From Day One, Mom will be your go-to person. You being born when she was young means the two of you will pretty much grow up together. Before long, coaches and teachers will be doing double takes, mistaking you for Mom.
Other times it’ll be like, “Oh wow, I remember when your mom was in my class. She sat right over there!” Or, “Are you Cynthia’s kid? You rebound just like her.”
Growing up in the same town, going to the same schools, playing the same sport — there is going to be a lot that the two of you share in the coming years. Not too long from now, coaches and parents of teammates will start pulling Mom aside after games, or in the supermarket — basically, wherever they can grab her attention for a few seconds.
“Is Swin looking at getting a scholarship to play in college?”
“Has Swin started thinking about recruiting yet? That girl can go D-I!”
And sure enough, right around sophomore year, you and Mom will sit down to talk about all that stuff. It won’t take long for baseball and theater and cheerleading and about a dozen other hobbies to melt away. Once she helps you understand that basketball can get you to college, and even earn you a free ride? Well, yeah … that’s gonna change everything.
From Day One, Mom will be your go-to person. You being born when she was young means the two of you will pretty much grow up together. Before long, coaches and teachers will be doing double takes, mistaking you for Mom.- Swin Cash
By the time you graduate, you’ll have dominated the high school basketball scene in Western Pennsylvania and have committed to play for the mighty UConn Huskies. But not before Mom makes you go on all five of your official visits. Those are the kinds of decisions she’ll make sure you’re fully thinking through. When it comes to your future, she’ll never let you just wing it.
Once you get to Storrs, Coach Auriemma will expect you to bring that It factor, and, almost immediately, he’ll put you in the starting lineup alongside some of the greatest players in the history of the sport. When that happens, Swin.…
You’re gonna rise to the occasion — All-America, two-time NCAA champion, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
And, off the court, the fact that Mom always forced you to consider the pros and cons of every decision growing up will prepare you for when it’s actually time to make choices about things like which major to choose and what career to pursue.
In her own way, Mom is always going to be doing what she can to guide you. You’ll realize soon enough that all this time she’s been instilling within you one main lesson: In about a million different ways she’s going to teach you that positive outcomes don’t appear out of thin air. They aren’t the result of magic.
If you want to be successful, you need to put in work and never give up.
Whether it’s getting good grades, winning a state championship, earning a college scholarship, landing your dream job, or buying a house, you have to set your goal, formulate a plan, and then work your butt off to make it happen.
Over time, without you even noticing it, all of it is going to sink in. Take basketball, for example. You’re going to start seeing hoops as more than just a game. You’ll be more forward-looking, more strategic. It won’t just be a sport for you, it will become a vehicle for your education, for travel, for community. Through it all, and even to this day, you’ll keep one of your favorite Scriptures as your guiding light, the one Grandma Dolly says to you again and again, Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Then, one day, if you play your cards right, you’ll even get paid to play this game.
Then, one day, if you play your cards right, you’ll even get paid to play this game.- Swin Cash
The funny thing is, it’s all going to start with a commercial.
In the spring of ’97, just a few months before you turn 18, you’ll catch a glimpse of something on television that will change everything. Instead of seeing AI or Shaq or MJ on the screen, you’ll turn on the TV and witness Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes hooping.
They’ll be in an empty arena, playing three-on-three for 30 seconds straight. Lisa passes to Rebecca, Rebecca goes in for a layup. They high five. In the background, Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love” will be blaring. Everything about the commercial will be cool, but there’s this one thing in particular that will catch your eye. Once you see it, you won’t be able to forget it.
The backs of their jerseys will have LOBO, LESLIE and SWOOPES written on them. But when they turn to the camera, you’ll be able to see the letters “WNBA” written across the front.
Then, at the very end of the clip, it’ll be like BAM! In big, huge letters….
WE GOT NEXT!
It will mark the beginning of a new era. After that, basketball won’t just be about getting a scholarship anymore for you. It’ll be about making it to pros, the big time, right here in the United States.
From that point on, when you go to play with the boys at the YMCA, or down at the playground, everything will be different. Instead of just the guys talking about how far they can go in this sport, you’ll be able to talk about some big dreams, too.
And, as it turns out, it won’t just be talk. In 2002, you’ll back it up.
After leading the Huskies to an undefeated season as captain during your senior year at UConn, you’ll get drafted No. 2 overall by WNBA’s Detroit Shock. You’re going to be a professional basketball player, Swin. Honest to goodness. Can you believe it?
Basketball won’t just be about getting a scholarship anymore for you. It’ll be about making it to pros, the big time, right here in the United States.- Swin Cash
There are going to be ups and downs, of course.
The ups will start right away. In your sophomore season, you’ll help lead the Shock to their first WNBA championship. That same season, you’ll play in the league’s All-Star Game. In 2004 you’ll win gold at the Olympics in Greece.
The downs? A herniated disc, a torn ACL, the loss of loved ones, a cancer scare … I could go on. But you’re going to take on each of these challenges with persistence and discipline. You’ll find purpose in the pain and fulfillment in the struggle. You’ll lean on your mom and her steadfast belief in you. You’ll ask the hard questions of your doctors and coaches. And you’ll do what you need to do. Grandma’s Scripture, “To whom much is given, much is required,” will carry you forward. You’ll understand, at the very core of your being, that everything you have, every accomplishment and responsibility, is a privilege.
You’ll fight through it all, and the success you’ll experience right out of the gate with the Shock won’t be beginner’s luck. You’ll win another WNBA Championship with them in 2006, and then get one in 2010 with the Seattle Storm. Two years later, you’ll return to the Olympic Games, this time in London. And once again, you’ll come home with gold.
But I’m not just here to tell you about all of your future accomplishments, as sweet as they will be. Here’s something that I want you to know … something I really want you to understand and take from this letter. In the coming years, you’re going to need to think big-picture.
In the coming years, you’re going to need to think big picture.- Swin Cash
Playing in the W means basketball won’t just be your sport, it will be your career.
You’re going to need to be smart in order to get the most out of it. The day you get drafted, you’ll already need to start planning for life after basketball. The WNBA won’t be handing out multimillion-dollar checks. You’ll have to develop a plan, a strategy for how to make your money last. And grow.
And learning how to do that kind of planning, well ... it’s not something you’re going to be able to pick up on the playground or at the Y. It won’t be something that you and Mom talk about at the dinner table, either.
So let me help bring you up to speed. Here’s the main thing, Swin: It’s not as scary as it seems. Really, you got this.
And there’s a good reason why I say that — why I know it.
The things about you that allow you to excel on the basketball court are the exact same qualities you’ll draw on in figuring out things like investing and planning for retirement — drive, persistence, attention to detail, all of that stuff.
Don’t let a lack of knowledge stop you from doing what you need to do in order to learn. Just put in the work. Like always. Ask a lot of questions. Be proud of asking questions! And don’t forget about the “who.”
Build a team that you can rely on to help you figure all these things out. When you don’t understand something, or you’re curious, or need advice, find someone who has lots of experience in that area. There are going to be people out there who know their stuff and will want to help you. Just make sure you do your research. Make sure these people are legit. Treat this — building your financial team — like everything depends on it. Like it’s picking a college or deciding where to go in free agency. Dig in, find the best experts and then stay engaged.
Once you start doing that stuff, and really start figuring things out, you’re going to want to pass along what you know to others. Kind of like what I’m doing for you right now.
You’ll want others to get to the point where they aren’t feeling overwhelmed or confused when talking about financial topics. You’ll understand that regardless of their backgrounds or careers, no one should feel like they’re in the dark when it comes to their money. So do me a favor: Share the things you’ve been learning with young kids in the sport, and your future nieces and nephews — everyone you can, really.
And then, one day, you’ll get married and start a family of your own. Take everything you know, all that you’ve learned, and lay the foundation for these lessons with your kids early on. Teach your children about the benefits of planning and persistence and teamwork — just like Mom did with you. But also … teach them about money, budgeting, investing and saving. Have those conversations to help them feel confident and comfortable.
Then, one afternoon, when your five-year-old son runs up to you in Target with his Spider-Man wallet and says, “Hey Mommy, I have some money in here. I can buy this Hot Wheels web-car launcher,” you’ll know you’re doing something right.
You’ll have become someone your kids can look up to, and someone they can learn from. You’ll be someone they can trust to always be in their corner. Just like your mom and mentors were for you.
Brought to you by Invesco QQQ in partnership with Invesco QQQ’s How Not To Suck At Money. Learn more at HNTSAM.com
All investments involve risks, including possible loss of principal. Individuals should consider their own situation and risk tolerance or consult a financial professional before making any investment decisions. The opinions expressed are those of Swin Cash and are based on her own personal experiences and should not be a guide for future success as other individuals’ experiences may not be representative of Swin Cash’s experiences. NCAA is a trademark of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Invesco is not affiliated with the NCAA or any of the individuals, schools or professional associations or teams mentioned in this article. Invesco Distributors, Inc.