How to Grow Up So Your Mental Age Matches Your Physical Age

UPDATED: May 16, 2023
PUBLISHED: April 24, 2015
young woman reading book to help her grow up mentally

I was 30 years old, modestly successful, living a life based on solid principles. Yet here I was in a meeting with some young punk with sleeve tattoos, feeling like a tweenager who was just called into the principal’s office.

Why did I feel so intimidated? This guy was coming to my office to buy one of my wholesale houses. I was giving him a great deal, and he was going to make a lot of money on it. I should have felt like Santa Claus after a few shots of Patron-spiked eggnog. (Santa loves Patron. I don’t know if you knew that or not.) Instead I felt like one of the kids on his naughty list who wasn’t going to make this deal as punishment for my Santa sins.

Despite my inferiority complex, he signed on the bottom line, and we both lived happily ever after. But I was left with a nagging sense that something wasn’t quite right and that there might be trouble in paradise lurking somewhere deep beneath the surface of my consciousness. You see, that wasn’t the only time this had happened. This was a routine occurrence.

I won’t bore you with the details, but after a lot of thought, study and counseling, I figured out what was wrong with me: I was a boy trapped in a man’s body.

I hadn’t grown up yet! Chronologically, I was 30 years old, but psychologically I was still a kid seeking a parent’s approval in everyone I came in social contact with.

Why? Two reasons:

  1. I had not resolved my past.
  2. I had not been initiated into manhood.

With that revelation, I set out to grow up.

Resolving the past to grow up

Parents aren’t perfect. They try, but they’re human, so they mess up and do stuff that hurts us. 

Such is life. Let’s not cry about it (for long), but in order to fully mature as an adult and become a person of power, you’ve got to pause for a moment and retrace your steps. You’ve got to have the courage to see your childhood for what it really was, relive the negative emotions as an adult capable of processing them in a healthy way and forgive and forget. Anyone who neglects to do this may be caught inescapably in the consequences.

Listen carefully here… You can go to as many rah-rah seminars as you want, chant yourself into oblivion with affirmations, visualize until the cows come home (Where are those freaking cows anyway? They are late.) and set goals for the moon only to land in the stars all you want. But if deep down you are operating out of a broken heart and distorted schemas based on childhood wounds, you may only get so far. And however far that is won’t matter because you’re likely to be less optimistic, a factor that impacts your overall well-being. 

How I resolved my past

I realize this may sound like so much psycho-babble to some, but it’s the truth. Here’s what has helped me:

  1. Find a good therapist and see them once a week until you feel like a superhero. I did this for eight years. This article would not exist if I hadn’t done this. None of my articles would.
  2. Put together a solid group of friends and get real with each other. Give the small talk, gossip, work and sports conversations a rest every once in a while. Be authentic with people. Tell each other your stories and really listen to each other. If you’re a man and this sounds effeminate to you, that means you need this more than anyone else.
  3. Read Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton, Ph.D. It’ll change your life.
  4. Go back and forgive everyone who has hurt you. But read Radical Honesty before you do it.

Initiate yourself into adulthood to grow up

Myriad cultures have initiation ceremonies, rites of passage and other coming-of-age traditions for young boys and girls, which are designed to change their perceived identity from child to adult. 

There is a chance, however, that you did not go through any sort of initiation process to adulthood. If so, you need to put yourself through one. Here’s how:

  1. If you’re a woman, read Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Do something like what she did. If you’re a man, do the same thing.
  2. Think of the one thing that scares you the very most. Now think of the second thing. And the third. Go do them all over and over and over until the fear is gone. For me, my number one fear was fighting because apparently I was a complete wuss. So I hired an Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter to both beat the crap out of me on a routine basis and teach me how to fight. I know one guy whose fear was poverty, so he dressed up like a homeless man, took a “will work for food” sign and panhandled on a busy intersection all day long. A friend of mine was deathly afraid of heights, so he jumped out of a plane. Get creative.
  3. Study masculinity if you’re a man and femininity if you’re a woman. Learn what it really means to be a mature individual in the fullest sense of the word.

In two words? Grow up. No matter how fully grown you are, there’s always more growing to do. That’s the beauty of life. So keep pushing your perceived limits and expanding the boundaries of who you are and what you’re capable of accomplishing in this world. It’s a lot more than you think.

This article was updated May 2023. Photo by GaudiLab/Shutterstock

Preston Ely is founder and CEO of, an Inc. magazine "Fastest Growing Company." He has built and sold multiple businesses and was recently voted one of Fast Company's "Most Influential People On The Internet." He makes $0 a year teaching success principles; he makes millions of dollars a year applying them to his own life and businesses. He writes articles for for the fun of it. Follow him at, on Facebook and on Twitter.