When I stepped off that plane at the end of those 18 months, I was excited and terrified. Here I was, now back to what should have been home, but I didn’t feel at home. I felt displaced and uncomfortable, like a fish out of water. And, much to my dismay, there was no Adjusting to Returned Missionary Life.
There wasn’t even an R-MTC (Returned Missionary Training Center). I was just congratulated on a job well done and wished good luck with my future endeavors.
This wasn’t right, I remembered thinking. I was given so much prep to prepare me for my mission: mission prep classes, Adjusting to Missionary Life (which is seriously the best book in all of creation), the MTC, etc.
Being displaced like I was, I didn’t know where the right direction was, only that I needed to be moving on with life. But how in the world was I to start?
So, if you, like me, struggled with that transition of going home, let me share part of that fictitious Adjusting to Returned Missionary Life book that I am going to write someday.
1) Realize that it’s going to take time adjusting to returned missionary life.
You need to have time to adjust. Remember, it took time to adjust to being a missionary. It’s going to take time adjusting to returned missionary life. So go easy on yourself. Don’t expect yourself to fit into your old self, because you’re not that person anymore. Give yourself some time to settle into your own skin again.
2) Keep a schedule.
Wake up at 6:30. Exercise for 30 minutes. Shower, eat breakfast. Daily planning at 7:30. Personal study at 8. Companion study at 9. Leave the house by 10. Service from 10:30-1. Lunch with a less active from 1:30-3. Tracting between 3-5. Dinner at 5. Lesson at 6, 7, and at 8. Home by 9. Bed by 10:30.
This is an example of one day in the life of a missionary. Every second of every day is planned out. We even have time to plan the day in the plans for the day!
One of the biggest factors why it’s so hard adjusting to returned missionary life is simply the fact you don’t have your schedule planned out anymore.
“I think the hardest for me would be waking up not knowing what I should really do first, ’cause you really have no schedule to follow whatsoever anymore” said LeBrent Diamonte, from the Philippines.
Solution? Make and keep your own schedule!
Obviously, you’re not going to be able to do all the things that you could do as a missionary. But you can still plan what you’re going to do that day. Get a planner. Find a job. Volunteer your time. Go to school. There are many things you can do that will help you stay proactive and not feel like you’re going stir-crazy.
And when your life gets stressful? Remember how you handled stress on your mission. Those skills are still applicable now. You got through hard times on your mission using different coping methods. Use those same skills to adjust to returned missionary life.
3) Have life goals.
Part of keeping a schedule is planning out your life. Realistically, of course, you’re not planning every single second of the rest of your life, but you can have goals that you can strive to achieve.
Preach My Gospel says, “Goals reflect the desires of our hearts and our vision of what we can accomplish. Through goals and plans, our hopes are transformed into action. Goal setting and planning are acts of faith.”
THIS IS NOT JUST TRUE IN MISSIONARY WORK!!
I think we often forget the importance of goals once we take off our tags. Some people don’t like goals. Sometimes we just like being lazy.
But! Goals measure our progress. And this life is all about progression. We don’t have to set as many or as numerically based goals as we did on our missions. But we can set goals that help keep us from becoming stagnant.
Elder Ballard says, “Over the years, I have observed that those who accomplish the most in this world are those with a vision for their lives, with goals to keep them focused on their vision and tactical plans for how to achieve them. Knowing where you are going and how you expect to get there can bring meaning, purpose, and accomplishment to life.”
Think of the power that comes with having a vision and making a plan to achieve it.
For instance, being home, you have a vision for being a successful individual (however that looks to you). But, suddenly you have all these responsibilities that you didn’t have before. Homework, work, cleaning checks, classes, etc. It can get overwhelming. But if you make a goal to get x,y, and z done this week, and then do it, think of how accomplished you’ll feel.
Plus, how much more fulfilling will that tub of ice cream be once you’ve accomplished your goals?
Having long-term and short-term goals with a vision to guide them will not only help you adjust to being home, but it will take you far in life. That’s a promise.
4) Hold standards for yourself
In my mission, we had our “Mission Way”; ie, the vision of who we wanted to be as a mission. When I received my departing interview from my mission president, he told me to create the “KaTrina Way”; ie, the way I wanted to be as a person.
This goes along with having a vision for yourself, but it’s a little more concrete. Take time and write down what you will and won’t do. Even more specific than saying “I’ll live worthy of a temple recommend.” Define what it is you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do to achieve the vision you have for yourself.
During the mission, there were standards that you had to follow to be a good missionary: be obedient to the schedule, don’t waste time on technology, etc. There were also personal standards you held yourself to: I’m going to learn this much of the Book of Mormon this week, I’m going to quote this many scriptures in lessons, etc.
“Continue good spiritual habits of study and prayer, but remember that you are no longer a missionary so keep moving forward.” says Marissa Mayer, Utah about coming home from a mission.
Don’t forget those patterns! Keep yourself spiritually, physically and mentally fit by setting standards and then strive to keep them. Have someone keep you accountable. And then do your very best.
I’d also add don’t beat yourself up when you fall short. You’re not going to be perfect in this life, no matter that you’ve served a mission and gave the Lord your best for 18-24 months. But remember this quote by Elder Holland:
“Please remember tomorrow, and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going.”
So to sum up step four of adjusting to returned missionary life, set your standards of how you’re going to live and don’t beat yourself up when you don’t live those standards perfectly.
5) Don’t forget your mission and what you learned.
You’ve probably heard people talk about their mission all the time with that infamous quote, “When I was on my mission…” While some of those recountings make you want to shake your head in disbelief, they obviously haven’t forgotten their mission.
Sometimes we think that adjusting to returned missionary life means forgetting everything that happened for the past 18-24 months. But it doesn’t work that way. I’ve heard it said that we have a millennium to prepare for our missions, 18-24 months to live our missions, and eternity to reflect on what we did for those 18-24 months. You were given a great opportunity. Don’t forget.
Remember the people. Call them if you can. Stay in touch on social media. The white handbook says, “When you go home, do not forget those you have taught. At all times live worthy of their trust.” They want to feel remembered just as much as you do.
Remember the feeling. Stay in those study and prayer habits! Try to find ways you can share the gospel simply each day.
Remember how much you grew. Reflect often, whether in your journal or looking through mission pictures of how you changed. Remember that God was the one who caused that change.
Don’t you forget.
6) Enjoy the things you can now do!
Movies. Books. Video Games. DATING. Suddenly, you go home and it’s like the waters of the Red Sea came crashing down upon you—everything you couldn’t do is now made available.
This can be a little overwhelming sometimes. But find one or two things to ease your back into it and enjoy yourself. First movie I got to see after I returned from my mission was The Greatest Showman. And I enjoyed every second.
Enjoy the fact that you’re not a missionary. I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, but you can’t go on dates and enjoy being with that special someone if you’re so stressed about the fact you’re now with someone of the opposite gender, breaking mission rules. One of the biggest things you can do to adjust to returned missionary life is accept the fact that you’re not a missionary anymore! And that’s okay.
Obviously, the complete Adjusting to Returned Missionary Life book does not exist.
But please remember: your mission was specifically for you. And while you will miss your mission, it was to prepare you for the adventures to come. Can you imagine the joy of being with your spouse and family for eternity? There are no words to describe the bliss and happiness that God has made available to each and every one of us.
So breathe. Relax. Enjoy the moment of being home. And remember that your mission was only the beginning.
For additional information, check out this article by a BYU psychologist who explains the RM “Awkward Phase”.