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When I was 17, I received a package in the mail from a young lady I’d spent a month with at a summer journalism program in Chicago.

She lived across the country, but we were at the exact same point in our lives. Between scrambling to apply to colleges, studying for the looming ACT exam, and juggling our daily AP classes and extracurriculars, it was difficult to hide our jitters about adult life, as well as our overwhelming excitement.

Adulthood was finally about to begin.

I opened the package, painted with the most beautiful Sharpie portrait I’d ever seen, and a CD tumbled out onto my bedroom floor. Scribbled on the front was a question.

“How did we get here?”

Many years later, as I sit here listening to the playlist from that CD I received so long ago, I can’t help but ask myself that same question.

Now that I’m fully grown, I realize that despite my anticipation to enter the magical world of adulthood, it really isn’t all it was pumped up to be. And if I could go back and give my younger self a few words of advice, I would tell myself that I shouldn’t spend so much time counting down until the day I turn 18.

For one, the sudden onset of bills is something my younger self was never prepared for. Of course, I’d watched my mother pay bills my entire life.

But why didn’t anyone tell me that everything was so expensive?

When I was a kid, I used to love getting mail. It was a rarity, but when it came it was an invitation, a letter or a birthday card. Now when I check my mailbox, I want to throw myself out of an open window because I know someone is asking me to fork over some more funds that I can’t afford to give away.

And don’t get me started on groceries. I remember going to the store and grabbing all the Lunchables and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos I desired, because I wasn’t paying for any of it. Now I stick to my grocery list and sometimes find myself putting a few things back at checkout. Even milk is almost $4 a gallon.

I wasn’t ready.

There was a point in life where my mother wouldn’t let me get a job. As soon as I was old enough to get a work permit, I was breaking my neck to get a part-time gig. I figured if I had a job, I could do my own thing without having to always ask my mom for cash. I remember her telling me, “Jasmine, once you start working, you’ll never stop for the rest of your life.”

At the time, I thought she was just trying to stop me from living my life; another way for her to stunt my fun, growth and cash flow. But she was right. And I have had to work almost every day, ever since.

With a job came financial responsibility. And sadly, the “Don’t-Mess-Up-Your-Credit” chapter of the personal finance handbook in high school had to have been torn out. I didn’t understand the importance of saving or investing my money. I spent freely and carelessly, living check to check before I’d even graduated from high school or made any real money.

With college came surmounting medical bills from hasty ER visits, student loan debt, maxed out credit cards and repossessed cars. And before I realized it, I was flooded with debt and unable to establish any viable credit for myself and my future.

To my younger self, I’d explain that sometimes it’s more important to set yourself up for future success than to focus on having fun right now. Having money and spending feels good, but long-term financial freedom is so much more valuable. I didn’t realize that then. But now, I know.

And although I wouldn’t steer my younger self away from love, I would encourage myself to get to know people better before investing so much love and trust in them.

Men lie.

And not just men, but people in general. Young Jasmine, not everyone is your friend.

As a child I had an issue with acceptance. I felt like I encountered rejection and bullying around every corner and I longed for a true friend. And when friendship presented itself, in whatever form or fashion, I was desperate for it.

That desperation for acceptance carried over into my adult life in both friendships and relationships. For a long time, I found myself staying in bad situations, trying to maintain relationships with people who didn’t care about me at all but saw my desperation and preyed on it.

After years of watching all these connections derail, if I could tell my younger self to guard her heart a little more tightly, I would. I would’ve saved myself a lot of heartache and emotional turmoil.

And one of the most important lessons I wish I could share with my younger self is to listen to your mother.

I’m finally at a point in my life where I don’t know what I’d do without my mom. I feed on her words and crave her comfort. But it wasn’t always the case.

For years, I spent my life trying to escape the tyrant I’d painted my mother out to be. I’d counted down the years until I’d be free from her. Free to be myself and roam as I pleased. Free from her house rules and strict demeanor.

She prevented me from having “fun.” And while everyone else was attending parties and concerts in high school, I was at church youth conferences and bible study. I longed to do the things other teens were doing. So-in-so’s mother let them do whatever they wanted, I would tell myself.

College would be the ultimate playground, free from my mom’s reign. But rehashing the memories and pain from my college years now makes me shutter. I spent so much time trying to escape from my mother’s house that I didn’t realize her strict rules were out of pure concern and fear for me. No parent wants to see their children hurt or suffer. Yet because of my utter disobedience, I found myself in dyer situations, from abusive relationships to having tragic miscarriages; all things my mother too encountered in her youth.

So many things she attempted to protect me from I ran into head first. Obedience is always better than sacrifice. And I’ve sacrificed so much of myself in my adult life. Sacrifice that could’ve been avoided had I just listened to my mother’s words of wisdom.

But curiosity always kills cats.

I spent a great deal of my childhood anticipating growing up. In my mind, adulthood was the light at the end of the tunnel; the pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. I drank the Kool-Aid and believed the hype.

As most people would confess, it isn’t what I thought it would be.

Instead, I’ve been met by the harsh real world. Where few people are your friend and no one is to be trusted because, in all actuality, you are all you have.

I’ve found myself trumped by emotions I’d never experienced as a child, bombarded by responsibility and cornered by choices that could make or break my entire life. Adulthood has a way of shattering dreams and evaporating hopes, if one is not careful. With becoming an adult, you lose your imagination, your innocence, and it’s replaced with the realization that everything is changing and nothing will ever be the same.

If I could go back, I’d tell my younger self to hold on to childhood as long as she could. Embrace your innocence and your lack of freedom; let it ground you.

I’d tell myself not to feel embarrassed for playing with dolls and not to cave into the pressures of sex and peer pressure. Enjoy being a kid. Hold onto your morals. Guard your heart.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And lately, I’ve been drinking a lot of lemonade. But if I could go back in time for one day, I’d be running through the grass, playing freeze tag with my cousins on a warm spring day. I’d race to the ice cream truck as it cruised down the street and hurdle myself over fences as we ran from stray dogs in the neighborhood. I’d swing myself so high on the swing set that I’d teleport to another dimension. I’d give anything for just 15 minutes of extra recess.

But most of all, I’d whisper in the wind and tell myself to slow down. Enjoy the ride that is being a kid. Eat a few more Bomb Pops and pop a few more wheelies riding that bike down the street. Spend a couple more hours watching Saturday morning cartoons and trading Pokemon cards on the bus after school. I’d cherish such moments. Because once they’re gone, there really is no going back.

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