How many returned missionaries do you know who come home from their missions and find the transition rough? Maybe you even experienced it firsthand as a returned missionary. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A missionary comes from a structured environment, surrounded by constant accountability and a single focus. But after they fly home and take off their tag, they’re pretty much on their own to figure things out. There’s little accountability and nobody is watching them. Some return to a strong support structure at home or in school while others have almost nobody. Either way, any recently returned missionary needs to quickly make some critical life decisions, all while trying to figure out how to assimilate back into life without familiar mission rules.
So what’s the solution? There are habits and actions that all returned missionaries—be they elders or sisters returning early or from full-time service—should develop, not only to safeguard their testimony but to build on positive experiences from their mission and put themselves on a pathway to success. These habits aren’t cosmic, but surprisingly less than 1 percent of returned missionaries actually incorporate them into their lives. Here are just three of these habits:
1. Don’t just learn about the Lord, strive to know the Lord.
I’ve heard that as many as 40 percent of returned missionaries will go inactive at some point after their mission. Regardless of the exact number, it is way too high! One of the reasons for this concerning statistic is that we as a people know a lot about the Lord, but how many of us know the Lord?
Most of us know the how-to parts of the gospel such as scripture study, temple attendance, prayer, etc. And while those things are critical, maybe more important than the specific how-tos is the why we do those things. If all of us truly understood the answer to why we do the everyday things, the number of inactive members would significantly decrease.
The reason why we do all of those things is to develop a very personal relationship with the Lord. It’s not about knowing about Him, it’s about knowing Him!
Here’s a brief story to illustrate the idea. Let’s say there is a room that people walk through after they passed away. The room has multiple doors, and there is a single man sitting at a table in the center of the room. One person walks in and the man at the table asks how this gentleman lived his life.
The man responds, “I was kind, I served others, served in my callings, always attended church on Sunday, and overall I kept the commandments.” The man at the table points to a door and says, “Very good; go through that door there.” After this man leaves the room, another man comes into the same room. As soon as this gentleman enters and sees the man at the table, he falls to his knees and cries, “Master!”
Which of these two people will we be?
We have been commanded by the Savior, in His words, to seek Him out. His ministry to the people of the earth continues regardless of church calling, race, or gender. He can minister to you. The word know should be taken literally.
There is no greater joy than the Lord’s presence. He is the Great Counselor. He and His angels continue to minister to people across the earth, and wonderful personal experiences await the faithful.
D&C 93:1 clearly states, “Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.” Your mission isn’t an end. It’s the beginning of an incredible journey in which you continue to strive to know the Lord personally, to the point where He becomes your Shepherd.
This is why I plead with members and returned missionaries to make Christ the focus of your life after the mission, not just to know about Him, but to get to know Him! No other “success” in the world will compensate if we don’t get this one right!
2. Develop a personal vision and a specific plan.
In seminars with people around the world, I often ask the question, “How many of you have a written personal vision?” Typically, less than 1 percent raise their hand.
Some of the greatest concerns shared by returned missionaries include: “What am I going to do with myself in the future?” “What course will I pursue in life?” “What will I do for a career?”
If you take the time to develop a personal vision, you can answer those questions and give yourself clear purpose and direction.
A clear, personal vision will cause you to get up in the morning feeling excited! I was fortunate to learn this lesson when I was a struggling 16-year-old, wandering around trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. One day, while working as the “garbage guy” at a waterpark, something changed inside of me. I realized I wanted something better. I started asking myself the question, “What do I want out of life?”
That’s when I developed a clear vision that I wanted to be a fighter pilot and get married in the temple. That vision charted my course for the next eight years. Once the vision and a plan to accomplish it were set, I went to work. That vision became a clear destination for me and caused me to get up every morning excited to work towards something.
Along with a vision, however, you need a plan. A vision without a plan is like a tiger without teeth—not very effective. In our research, we’ve found that less than 10 percent of people have clearly written goals and a plan. What few of them realize is that a written plan is one of the greatest predictors as to whether someone will accomplish their vision!
For example, once I knew I wanted to be a fighter pilot and get married in the temple, I went to work on the plan: Graduate from high school, prepare for my mission, attend college and earn at least a 3.7 GPA, go on a date with at least one girl a week, score at least a 95 on the Air Force physical fitness test, etc. Because I had clear steps leading up to my goal, I eventually accomplished my vision of becoming an F-16 pilot and marrying in the temple. I see this pattern repeated over and over in those who accomplish their vision. They develop a clear vision, set specific goals, and then develop a detailed plan.
For more details on how to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound) goals and develop a specific plan to accomplish your dreams, see chapter eight of Return and Succeed: 12 Powerful Habits for Success after Your Mission.
3. Surround yourself with people who inspire you and will help you succeed.
You may have heard the saying “You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” In my experience, that is fairly accurate. Friends can be a great strength to you after your mission, or they can drag you down if you’re not careful. Although we should be kind to everyone, be wise about who you choose to let into your closest circle of friends. In many cases, they will be your greatest cheerleaders or your greatest hindrances. A simple question I ask myself is, “Does this person inspire me to be better and reach higher?” If the answer is “yes,” then you’ve probably found a good person to spend time with.
These are just three of 12 key habits that have a huge impact in any of our lives, but especially in the life of a returned missionary. The transition from a full-time mission is a critical time of life, but one in which a clear course can be set if the right habits and mindset are established early!
For more great tips on being a successful returned missionary, check out Robert R. Shallenberger’s new book, Return and Succeed: 12 Powerful Habits for Success after Your Mission, available now at Deseret Book or deseretbook.com.