Growing Up: The Train That Can Never Stop

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I’m 24 years old. I’m in the North Indian Himalayas. I’m sitting down for a private audience with one of Tibet’s most revered Buddhist teachers. After telling him how attached I am to my mother he looks at me straight in the eyes, smiles and gently says, “Well, you have to grow up now“. No seven words have ever hit me so hard.

This post is dedicated to all you people out there who are struggling with bitter sweet agony of growing up. I hope it gives you something to think about.

John Mayer and the train that can never stop

If you follow me on Twitter you will probably know that I am a fan of John Mayer. John is one of those rare artists that has an innate ability to put certain life situations into words. In fact, before I started listening to Mayer I would have argued that many of these emotions, desperate mental dramas and secret inner quandaries were unable to be described in ordinary language. They are simply too experiential to be categorized.

But John manages to. John reconnects me to those mental places with his lyrics. He does it time and time again. And although I am desperately trying to avoid these emotions (because they hurt), I find myself listening to Mayer again and again because it reminds me I am not unique. These emotions are, for the most part, universal to all humans. I have to thank John for that.

One John Mayer song that is not particularly critically acclaimed or even well liked amongst his fans is called Stop This Train. It is a song that, whenever I hear it, sends me back to that terrifying place of knowing that, really, we are alone growing up in this world. But, at the same time, it connects you with a feeling of hope because you aren’t the only one in that situation.

I ask everyone reading this post to watch an incredible solo performance of John singing this song here while taking a look at the lyrics here. Take five minutes out of your day to experience this song and everything it means to you because it gives this article a lot of context.

Crying, driving away in the dark

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There comes a point in everyone’s life when they realize there is no turning back. In the song Mayer uses the metaphor of driving away from his parents house, crying, in the dark. We have all had that moment. It might have been when you moved out or when you realized that you could beat your dad at table tennis. For a lot of people it manifests as an extremely empty and hollow realization.

The interesting thing is that some people are more equipped for this moment than others. Some people shut down and start to compensate for this lost youth in negative ways. Others embrace it and look forward to the future. Some people do both. But this moment is pivotal because it is the start of your adulthood. How you deal with this moment has a lot to do with whether you ever really grow up at all – and a lot of people don’t.

How to move forward and grow up

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I am not professing to have all the answers. I still struggle all the time with the idea that I am no longer at home with my mum eating her cooking and asking her for $10 to buy lunch with. I still struggle with the fact that she is going to die one day.

But since my conversation with that Buddhist Lama I have made some headway. I am stepping out on my own more and I am starting to enjoy it. Here are some tips on how to grow up well. Tips on how to drive away in the dark knowing that you are going to make it.

1. Accept it as soon as you can
Something you are going to need to do eventually is accept that there is no going back. You will have to accept this to grow up well. You can put it off or you can stand up tall and do it now. There is never any going back to the old days. The old days are like a dead person and you cannot revive a dead person no matter how much you long for them.

I encourage everyone who is struggling to grow up to accept fact that the past is gone and it is never coming back. Move forward. Its all you have.

2. Give up the memory reliving
If you are a healthy adult who has dealt with the growing up process well then there is nothing wrong with a little nostalgic reminiscing. But if you are buying sports cars, having affairs, trying to relive your youth or struggling with the depression of getting old then these memories can drive you mad. You need to give them up.

One of my worst traits is that I think to much. This inability to quiet my mind was one of the main reasons I was struggling to grow up. I would constantly play out the old days in my head, wishing, praying that I could go back to high school when things were simpler. But after I was gently told to “grow up” by my teacher I decided that it was time to leave these things behind and move on. And I have never been so happy.

The best way you can do this is by starting to become a little better at mediation. You don’t have to sit on a cushion and close your eyes but you do have to start becoming friends with your mind. Learn to watch your thoughts. Learn how they arise and subside without leaving any trace at all. When you do this they cease to control you.

3. Find out the cause
Often the pain associated with growing up can be linked to something else. Why are you feeling like this? Why are you missing the old days? If you can find another cause you might be able to get on top of those feelings.

For example, if you are really stressed because you think your wife is cheating on you then, undoubtedly, you are going to be longing for the old days where life was more simple. In this situation it isn’t the growing up that is causing the problem, it is some ancillary factor. Find out what is bringing these thoughts up and deal with it as soon as possible.

4. Don’t recreate
Trying to recreate the old days by going out with your mates all the time, skirting your responsibilities to your family, etc. is not going to solve the issue. A lot of people (men in particular) deal with the issue by not dealing with it. It is tempting here to grab you by your shirt collar and shake you while yelling, “Grow the F up man!” But of course that wouldn’t help.

We need to have a sense of honor in these situations by accepting the fact that we aren’t dealing with the problem very well. Trying to recreate the good ole days is not useful, nor will it make you feel better. As soon as you get in the cab to go home you will be back to that empty space. Recreating is living in the past and the past is a dead person. Remember?

5. Find good company
You are shaped in a big way by the people around you. If you are surrounded by 30 year old men who still wear their school jackets and go out drinking every night then you are going to go down with them. If, however, you hang out with people who are making progress, living and really trying to better themselves then you too will begin to move forward.

Finding good company is a massive part of growing up. It is a stark and bitter day when you realize that most of your buddies from high school are assholes and that you need new mates. You feel extremely alone. You have to find new people. But you will. And when you do you will be so much better off. Of course not everyone’s buddies from school are assholes. But a lot of the time they will hold you back because, as a group, you can just stay alive in the past.

6. Understand that things change
When the 16th Karmapa was on his death bed his students asked him to sum up his life’s experience and wisdom into one small teaching. After a brief pause he turned to them and simple said, “Things change”.

These two words are the quintessence of growing up. These two simple words summarize everything that you need to know about life. Things change and when you fail to grasp that truth you suffer. Nothing lasts and nothing stays the same. Embrace that chaos and find some peace by letting go.


So you have two options. You can fight to stop the train or you can go with it. As corny and cliche as it sounds, you really have to learn how to cope because there is no going back. Your youth is gone and all you have is now and, if you are lucky, the future. Have you grown up yet?

If you have any advice to give anyone or if you yourself have struggled with growing up please leave a comment and share your experience. It might really help someone.

17 thoughts on “Growing Up: The Train That Can Never Stop

  1. Such great counsel! I would only add grow up while you can make the decision to do so.
    Don’t wait until you have no choice. My mother died quite unexpectantly when I was 30. It shocked my world! Although I was already married and “on my own,” the real growing up didn’t happen until my mother was no longer alive. It made the grieving process complicated and extremely painful. The good news is that I have matured in ways that I never would have imagined. The sad news is my mother never had the opportunity to see the transformation.

  2. Hi Cheryl.

    Firstly, sorry to hear about your mother. I was quite sad reading that she didn’t have an opportunity to see your transformation. That being said, she obviously did her job well as you are now a well grown human being.

    Thanks for commenting.


  3. I just had to say that I also LOVE John Mayer and play “Stop this train” and “Why Georgia” very often. I’m a 22 year old female on my own for the first time in a big city and so far I’ve been going through some serious growing pains. It’s always nice to know that I’m not the only one going through a “quarter life crisis” or whatever you want to call it. Great post!

  4. Oh DM, you have no idea how relevant this post is for me right now! I’m 23 and less than two months off moving out of my parent’s house and into my own place with my fiancee. He is very excited about it, while I could happily stay at home forever! I am so comfortable here, paying rent, doing the chores and watching movies with the important people in my life most nights of the week. I couldn’t care less about moving out, paying bills, managing the grocery shopping and deciding what *I* want to do. Maybe it’s because I’ve always looked to my mother for acceptance and confirmation, maybe because it’s a very easy existence here…I don’t know.

    I don’t think it’s the fear of growing up that is my main problem rather than this terrible grief I feel, knowing that these are literally the last few days of a chapter in my life. There will now be a distance between me and my parents that I have never, ever experienced before. It’s like surgically cutting the apron strings, and it hurts like frick. I can’t change it, and no matter how much I rationalise the fact that I am only a few streets away, I will still come over a lot and I will still phone every day, I fear that modern living will get in the way and that somehow I won’t have the same relationship with them as I have had up until now. It doesn’t help that my mother is also dealing with it: her first child moving out and as she puts it, she will “miss every hair on my head”.

    I suppose the best way is to accept it and dwell on the happier aspects of it. I won’t get my diet spoiled by the goodies in the fridge, I’ll be able to watch what I want to watch in the evenings, I’ll be able to do things my way. And with the sale of the house (it used to belong to my grandfather) my mother will finally have a lump sum of money to deal with her debts and finally work towards an easier life, with a great holiday and maybe reduced working hours to look forward to.

    But it still hurts. Stop the train, indeed.

  5. What a fantastic post. I think the key thing is to learn to let go of the past, stay present, and be excited about things in the future. In many ways, we don’t have to grow up. We can still go swing. We can still go swim. We can still be silly.

    Growing up is simply a state of mind. 🙂

    I really love your blog, very good job!


  6. Hi Aimee.

    I was in your situation not long ago and I can guarantee your thoughts about moving are much worse than moving itself. I was so down about leaving my mother and brother but, in the end, it turned out to be a great decision.

    Moving out gives you a lot of freedom and you grow a lot as a person. I guarantee you will enjoy this. Also, when you go back to see your parents you will have a much more focused and enjoyable time.

    Don’t worry. Embrace it.


  7. In the middle of my senior year in highschool, my parents divorced suddenly, my grandma and grandpa died and so did my baby… my kitty when she was being babysat at Christmas time, I was moved twice and was in three schools my senior year. The last one was in a different state far away. I began having panic attacks and anxiety, my parents disowned me once they found “better” and “new families” and had no use for their old kids anymore. My little brother left home early, but I was not so strong. I had never dated even by the age of 21, so my mother invited a man over who ended up raping me. I had trouble calling the police because i was afraid of the phone, and my mother was happy about it when I went to her, crying frantically. That night she and her boyfriend abused me mercilessly but I could not leave the house.. i was a frightened shut-in with agoraphobia. She had a minister come. He could see i had been crying i’m sure, but he didn’t ask any questions. I think he could see my mother and her boyfriend would not be moved. My I was shaking and could barely speak by this time, but my mother still forced me to marry my rapist. I cannot tell you what horrors awaited me then, but a couple of weeks later my only child was conceived.

    I was 22.

    Of course i thought about better days over and over again all through this. I couldn’t do anything but that to survive. Eventually i got away, but was homeless with my infant son and struggled to survive until Saint Clare’s Charity housing for homeless women and children took us in. Most of the girls there had drug issues or cps involvements. I was the only one there that did not.
    However I made fast friends with almost all of the girls and especially the nuns. I received counseling and basically this place proved to be mine and my son’s salvation.

    By the time my son was four, I was diagnosed with a rare intestinal cancer that i have been fighting this whole time. I am alone even now (interestingly, this rare cancer is called the “orphan cancer” because it is so rare and so little funding for it). Alone, except for my now 10 year old son and my 67 year old father who is again divorced and no longer astranged. My doc says I don’t have more than two yrs left to live.

    I’m not fortunate enough to have a future, but I do have a present. I have realized too little too late that the only one who truly loves me unconditionally is God, myself and my son.

  8. Laura. I don’t really know what to say other than that you and your son will be in my prayers for as long as you need them.

    I pray from the bottom of my heart that good news comes your way soon.


  9. I’ve been reading your posts for a while, but never commented before- but I just wanted to say that I was going through a rather difficult time and this specific post helped me gain perspective on the situation and many others I was struggling with. Specifically it was the part where you mentioned that “Things Change” made me realize I must accept the things I can’t change. I just wanted to say thank you for the post and will be reading more of your posts in the future.


  10. This post was amazing. Your ability to put lifes twists and turns into words is beautiful. I often find myself glued to the screen reading your inspirational posts and find everything so much clearer. When things start to weigh me down it is so wonderful to read your blogs about life, love, happiness and growing up. It puts everything into perspective. Thankyou so much for continuing to help so many people with life lessons that will never be forgotten.

    Much admiration and respect,

    Lily 🙂

  11. Sorry.Please dont be angry.Just read and try to understand.My parents divorced when I was 4 years old.It was a nasty one.My father caught my mom cheating.I remembered since I was there. I am now 37.This January I looked for and found my mother.I became the baby who lost his mother.Rational thinking went out the door.She showered me with love that I have long forgotten.In the space of 2 months, I spent all of my lifetime saving circa 50k on her and on my younger half bloods.What she wanted she will get.She started telling me to get a divorce so that I (she)can get the proceedings. Of that I was taken aback.But I kept quiet. About a week after that, I found out that she was a hooker.I followed and …….Confronted her telling her that this is nonsense.I am able to financially take care of everything.She slapped me and in my anger I threw her into a swimming pool.I found out that she is very good in psychology.She has influenced my wife and now I am in the courts fighting for my family, my babies. My wife is under her spell.No amount of counselling etc works. I have shown all sighns of depression.I go on without sleep 4-5 days at a stretch.My company layed me off too.I am broke as a hobo.People gives me looks of disgust, desecrate my honour and as such. And I am breaking.I have commited to end this life of mine when i run out of funds.That should not be too long coming.My life is my family.To say that it will hurt them if I do so,yes,I know but my pain is overbearing.I cannot even eat, sleep etc.Find inner calmness? tried but to no avail.I just miss my family too much.Be strong?Until when? I am growing weaker by the minute.Enough tis enough

  12. I just found this blog and not sure if you still read it… But I’m happy I found this. I’m 22 and moving out in 6 months away from my family to another state and I’m just sad. I constantly think about the old times and how much I love my family and think about how I wont be able to make or share as many memories with them. I also worry that something will happen if I move… I just am having a hard time accepting life. Accepting that life changes even if I don’t like it. My mind just constantly tunes into the negative about the future without my family in my life everyday anymore. But I guess thats growing up… ITs good to know there’s other people who share the same thoughts. Thank you.

  13. The fact this is true is why I would never have children – so they don’t need to face the same thing. I could accept the change if there were any positive features of it, but at 24, I really haven’t seen anything but the start of a decline, nor do I know a single adult with a life history similar to my own who I’d rather be than being a child again. Life goes backwards – childhood is the only life period without drawbacks, and like financial inflation, there is emotional inflation – what you had as a given today becomes something which costs tomorrow, and none of these costs are ever removed once they appear.

    I’m banking on a wealthy retirement with a lot of drugs possibly being another good time, if I get lucky.

  14. I might be too late to write on this post, but I need to say something.
    I’m freaking about growing up. Recently I got a job, I’m 20, and I,m the boss from a marketing department. I’m scared of making the wrong decision. I hate that I took that option and I wish I was in a simple internship.
    All my friends tell me how great of an opportunity it is, but i just hate not seeing my parents as frequently as past years. I’m scared this is growing up, that i have to be cold and fierce, not funny or wear converse. Or anything, aside from that im the only one i know in this kind of situation. I think im not ready, but what if this is how i get to be ready for somethibg else. I have no way to know this. My parents tell me to give in, ny brother and family tell me so. But i fell like i have to finish, just like a school assignment. I wish i had traveled more or had more fun. Because i just dont see a way out of forcing myself to shange in a way i dont want to in order to surpase this situation. Giving your opinion would be agreats. Even though I have read
    That noone really knows what they are doing.

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