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Hitting the big 25: No longer a girl, but a woman.

I’m 25.

Yes. It finally happened. What women are told is the worst age to be (other than 30!). I’m 25. I have finally moved on from the 18-24 age bracket. Whoops! You always think it’ll never happen to you. Until it does.

If I’m being real, I have been deathly afraid of 25 since I was 23. The last year was literally spent already mourning the loss of my “youth.” Which I know, one day I will kicking myself for, thinking I was “old” at 24.

Despite having the eternal baby face that continues to get me carded much to the eye rolls of my friends, I hyper focused on the aging process. Read up on all the ways I could prevent the signs of age from eventually catching up to me. From getting my dermatologist mom to prescribe me a retinol, wearing my eye cream and sunscreen religiously to obsessing over staying the same weight or less. And that’s just the physical aspect of it.

On the mental side, I’ll be honest. I feel like an adult. That prefrontal cortex has definitely done its cooking. Instead of thinking about parties and tv shows and boys, I think about what I’m going to cook the next day, how to better perform at work, and how to build my credit score. But I still feel behind in some ways. I have no idea if my future is in the US or somewhere else. My friends are scattered across the world and across the US, much like my own family whom I rarely to get to see these days.

And yet…..I’m the proudest of me I have ever been. I have lived multiple different lives in my twenties, the crazy college kid in Omaha, the responsible grad student in Chicago, the disillusioned local reporter in DC/Maryland and now the 25-year-old creative living her LA dream. I finally have my story! Like a friend once remarked, I have done my time, worked my way up through different cities, from Omaha to LA. The sitcom life I have always wanted!

And if I’m being honest, all the sitcoms I grew up watching revolve around people in their mid to late twenties figuring their way through life. So even though it may feel like my life is ending, maybe it’s just beginning.

I’d like to think so.

24 was great but it was tough. Because it was my first year in the real world. Which is tough in itself. And being an immigrant worker in the US is even tougher. Being away from family, and moving constantly so your sense of community fluctuates makes it harder.

Last year, I got my first job as a reporter. Moved on my own with no help. Began learning how to drive after years of resisting it because I thought I would suck. Made friends in a new city where I knew absolutely zero people.

THEN I then ended up making lots of friends, wrote lots of articles, drove amazingly, quit my job, moved to LA and now have a dream life as a communications strategist at USC. THE END. What an awesome life I do lead!

NOPE. I have a tendency to romanticize my life but I’ll be honest about the journey. The truth is within the first month and a half, I knew my job as a local reporter covering crime and real estate wasn’t the right fit. I would cry about it endlessly, but I knew I didn’t have a lot of options as an immigrant to just quit. I did make friends, but it took a lot of putting myself out there and there were definitely lonely nights. I did learn how to drive, but it did not come natural to me.

One day, after a particularly bad day at work, I broke down during my driving class, much to the bewilderment of my driving instructor, who made me stop the car and asked if it was his lectures that made me cry. (It was not. Although seeing how I sucked at driving did make me question if I could do ANYTHING right?)

I was away from everything I knew. I missed my sister’s pregnancy, all the family birthdays and anniversaries, I missed all the friends I made in different chapters of my past lives and I kept beating myself up over not having it all together. Because vulnerability is a foreign concept to me, I kept those feelings hidden and kept convincing myself it was fine (or at least it would be).

In the coming months, I scored three job offers from different places. I was so proud of myself for making it through multiple interviews. All three were abruptly rescinded when they found out I was an international student who would need sponsorship eventually, though not immediately.

The Friends song, “your life’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s DOA” was my reality although my Instagram was a perfect medley of vacations, fun times in DC, and my cool life as a reporter. Because those moments were occurring simultaneously as well. It wasn’t all bad. And I’m Apps. My life is nothing if not a movie….for better or for worse.

Thankfully, my story has a happy ending. I ended up meeting and befriending some amazing people in DC. I became so used to job rejections due to something I couldn’t control, that I waded the waters of different opportunities: moving to a different country, getting a PHD, moving back home or taking time to write my memoir. Which, let’s face it, my life is heck of a lot more interesting now than when I was a naive 20-year-old who knew nothing.

I decided to quit my first job, even though I didn’t have a definite job offer yet. But I told my family and friends firmly, I had to do it. If you keep staying where you’re not meant to be, you only delay what is actually meant for you. This is true of not just jobs, but places, friends and lovers. Every time I’ve forced myself to settle or more likely, been told to settle, it’s backfired. Now, I know better.

I was in the final rounds of interviews at two places. A place in DC and a place in LA. Yup, Los Angeles, the city I had loved since I was 16 and had first visited with starry eyes. Even as a depressed teenager, Los Angeles held a promise to me. That my dreams would come true if I kept being adamant and seeing them through. Even when the world told me otherwise.

My colleagues looked at me in bewilderment in the newsroom that day as I walked in and told my editor that the job was not the best fit and I was grateful for the opportunity, but it was time for new pastures. I was lovingly given a great farewell in those two weeks during my notice period and I genuinely wish the best for my fellow reporters.

The job in LA was at USC’s Center for Health Journalism, a reputed organization, that surely had many candidates vying for the position. The other DC-area job seemed like it was in the bag but my heart said LA was where it was at.

And wouldn’t you know it? After 5 rounds of interviews and a writing test, I was informed my candidacy was advanced. AND they knew I was international. (P.S. the other job did extend an offer, but conveniently disappeared like a fuckboy who wants nothing to do with you once they heard I was international, oh well).

What that whole ordeal taught me was nothing that is meant for you will ever pass you by. I’m so grateful to my current job for taking a chance on me.

And so, I moved. Yet again. After less than a decade of having first come here, my LA story came full circle. Just like I manifested all those years ago.

I love what I do now. I feel a sense of purpose and LA feels like home. I have a cute studio overlooking the downtown skyline and my photos now show a genuine smile and determined eyes, knowing all the ups and downs have finally led me to what I once dreamed so many years ago.

Because if I survived the last year, I can survive anything. Actually scratch that, if I can survive the last couple of years, I can survive anything. Not just survive, but thrive and kick ass at it! And look good while doing it too!

In 2018, I was a naive, sheltered 20 year old who was thrilled to be in the US and loved being the center of attention, even when it wasn’t for the right reasons. In 2021, I graduated at 22, a little disillusioned from the lessons learned from the pandemic, but still excited for grad school and Chicago. In 2023, I’m a 25 year old woman who knows she can take anything the world throws at her and then some. And that is a better story than any sitcom life could have ever given me.

So I’ll embrace the lines and the wrinkles when they come (although I hope they take their sweet time like they did with my ever graceful mother!) and I’ll take every hard kick from life I get, because that just means yet another dream is on its way to me. Because I will do anything except settle for a life that is anything short of extraordinary.

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Carol Zuegner
Carol Zuegner
Aug 14, 2023

Apps, what a story of determination and talent and resiliency. You've learned so much about life and yourself. I know the best is yet to come. Very proud of all you have accomplished.

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