By Emmaline Wilson, author of What Sisters Know: Mission Advice from Sisters to Sisters (justforthesisters.blogspot.com)
Modern prophets have encouraged us to make education a high priority. High enough to go into debt, if necessary (gulp!)—high enough to give years of study to prepare for our life’s work. Now that you’re home, it’s time to obtain that education.
Maybe you’re thinking… awesome! As a returned missionary, you have stellar study habits the pre-mission you wouldn’t have dreamed possible. Why not bump your load from 12 to 18 credits? You’re beyond ready for those new classes… right? Or perhaps, on the flip side, you are beyond anxious about this transition: your mission has literally been the first break you’ve taken from school since age three and you can’t quite remember why the Pythagorean theorem works or which Norman king invaded England. You may even find yourself asking why your former course of study is all that important when people’s eternal salvation is on the line.
Either way, going back to school after a mission is just another transition you face, one in which you can still receive divine help. Take a step back. School may be easier—or harder—than you anticipate, but the Lord will be there to guide you. Make Him a priority as you approach a return to school.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Set priorities and goals. The Lord, through His prophets, has encouraged education time and time again. President Henry B. Eyring taught, “Our first priority should go to spiritual learning. … But it is also clear that spiritual learning [should] not replace our drive for secular learning. The Lord clearly values what you will find in that history book. And He favors not only Spanish verbs but also the study of geography. His educational charter requires that we have “a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (D&C 88:79). There is also an endorsement for questions we study in the sciences. It is clear that putting spiritual learning first does not relieve us from learning secular things. On the contrary, it gives our secular learning purpose and motivates us to work harder at it.” (See full article).
- Plan. Your planning doesn’t have to begin at 9pm every night or involve a little white planner and numbers, but make realistic plans for your time. Set a study schedule—and plan time for scripture study, callings, and temple attendance while you’re at it. Your mission helped you live a schedule and adapt to unexpected circumstances; continue living life in this manner.
- Meet with a school counselor or trusted adviser. Whether you are attending a technical college, beauty school, or a more traditional four-year university, those with knowledge of school policies and offerings can help you. Seek advice from those you trust. Seek out a mentor to guide you as you make important educational and life decisions. Just as you weren’t shy to ask your mission president for counsel, the Lord has given you other leaders to continue helping you choose your life’s course.
- Get involved. Perhaps many of your friends have moved on while you were a missionary, but don’t let that stop you from being social—remember all those times you began potentially awkward conversations during your mission? Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven, so put yourself out there and try new things. Form friendships. Make contact with your local ward unit and missionaries. Consider joining a club or team for something you’re interested in or simply to learn a new skill. Serve others. As you are busy doing good things, you will forget concerns about being back from the mission.
- Measure success the right way. If you’re anything like me, you studied and re-studied what it means to have success as a missionary in order not to make your mission a numbers game. School shouldn’t be different. Instead of comparing your test scores—to yourself, pre-mission, or to others—ask yourself if you are on your way to accomplishing your personal life goals. Are you learning material that is important to you? Are you picking up skills like critical thinking, analysis, writing, or research? Getting good grades has its place, and graduation is important but as you are able to feel truly accomplished in your educational pursuits, it may be easier to view education as a blessing.
It may take courage and a lot of hard work to obtain your education—and as a returned missionary, there is no one more prepared than you are to face life with exactly those attributes. Education, now and in the future, can be an important step in becoming who you want to be in His kingdom, just as a mission was in its time. Brigham Young taught that “education is the power to think clearly, to act well in the world’s work, and to appreciate life” (see this BYU devotional). By applying the eternal principles learned from your mission, you can also navigate your education, successfully.
More advice for returning missionaries: