“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

When I was nine, my father abandoned our family, leaving my mother to reenter the workforce and support two children on her own. In the years that followed, my brother and I would overhear adults in hushed voices lament our “growing up too fast.” But for my part, I cursed that I could not grow up faster. If I was older, smarter, stronger, I could take control; I could fix everything. I could care for my family. With this in mind, I fell in love with success: the milestones I achieved and the grades I brought home were under my control, and with an “A+” essay in hand, my world felt secure.

Ten years later, I was a student at my first-choice university, the pride of my hometown, and I was failing. It took a handful of pills and ten days in a mental-health facility for me to realize that impressing my elders and out-achieving my peers did not an identity make. A decade had passed; but inside, I was still that little girl, standing on my toes because I thought being big meant being unafraid.

I no longer want to race through life chasing success. Now that I’ve learned I am not defined by the praises I earn or accolades I collect, I want to slow down and relish every moment of this wild and precious ride. Failure will find me, but I’ll laugh as I dust myself off knowing that every stumble is an important chapter in my story: a story that may not always be perfect, but will always be mine.

— Ruby Tamberino