My Life so far has often been distilled to numbers : 1.7 million subscribers, 1.8 million total followers, 155 million views. At 12 years old, I started posting videos on YouTube. In November, at 24, I quit.

WHEN I tell people about my videos, I often say, ''imagine if Ferris Bueller has a YouTube channel.'' I used the style and conventions of nostalgic teen films to romanticize what was otherwise an ordinary life.

On YouTube, a romanticized life is also, paradoxically, a deeply personal one. My channel was as raw and honest as I would have been in my diary. That's part of the culture. Being known as you are - and praised for it - lures in those of us with a deep desire to be seen.

But another part of the culture is to make yourself into a product and figure out how to sell that product. Success is measured in views and subscriber counts, visible to all. The numbers feel like an adrenaline shot to your self-esteem. The validation is an addicting high., but its lows hit just as hard.

The career I built on YouTube is one of which millions of young people still dream.Many of them start making videos to share themselves with an audience that actually wants to listen.

And then, at 1,000 subscribers, YouTube can send that first check; if subscriber counts grow, so do the brand deals and collaborations that often lead to fame and fortune.

When done right, YouTube can quickly become a lucrative career. But maintaining it is a delicate balancing act; sometimes, as it was for me, the sacrifices required are too dangerous to be worthwhile.

The peak of my YouTube career didn't always match my childhood fantasy of what this sort of fame might look like.Instead, I was constantly terrified of losing my audience and the validation that came with it.

My self-worth had become so intertwined with my career that maintaining it genuinely felt life-or-death. I was stuck in a never-ending cycle of constantly trying to top myself to remain relevant.

YouTube soon became a game of, ''What's the craziest thing you'd do for attention?'' My answer? Legally marry my sister's boyfriend. [It was meant to be a lighthearted joke. Our union has since been annulled].

NEARLY three million people have watched that video; by the numbers, I should consider it and others like it as successes. But there's an overwhelming guilt I feel when I look back at all those who naively participated in my videos.

A part of me feels like I took advantage of their longing to be seen. I gained fame and success from the exploitation of their lives. They didn't.

EVEN SO, I was also a teenager, making decisions based on the visibility that American culture teaches us to desire. I knew that my audience wanted to feel authenticity from me. To give that to them, I revealed pieces of myself that I might have been wiser to keep private.

The Opinion Essay Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks author Elle Mills.


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