“What’s your plan when you get home?”


Girl with Books

I always ask missionaries about their schooling. Did they attend college or trade school before serving a mission? Are they planning to go back? What are they planning to study and why? I know that’s a lot of pressure for a young person who’s supposed to be 100 percent dedicated to service for 18 to 24 months, but it’s the luck of the draw, kid: I prep students for the SAT, and my husband is a college professor.

Call it an occupational hazard, but I worry a lot about teenagers figuring out what they want to do with their lives and how they’re going to get it done. And I tend to worry more about girls than about boys. Mormon guys tend to have it in their heads that they’re supposed to have a career that will support a family. Mormon girls grow up hearing that their primary goal is to be wives and mothers, and their college plans tend to reflect that.

But I hear great things from the sister missionaries who serve in our ward. “I went to BYU Idaho for a year. I really like it there.” “I’m at BYU for undergrad, but I plan to go to medical school.” “I was working, but I’m thinking of going to community college when I get back.” “BYU. Accounting.”

The one you’re going to hear about today started with, “Well, I was at LDS Business College. But they’re cutting my program, so I guess I’ll just go back home and go to BYU Idaho.”

What? Cutting your program? That sounds intriguing. Tell me more.

“I’m majoring in photography, because I really want to be a professional photographer. But they’re not going to offer that major any more. It’s too bad, because I really liked Salt Lake City and my school.”

And then I had one of those moments: you know, the ones that are fixed points in time when you’re supposed to do something for someone, and you might miss it if you aren’t careful? Or maybe it was one of those moments when the clueless but bossy ward member barges in with an ill-considered position and ends up sticking her foot in her mouth. Either way, I took a deep breath.

“You know, I run a business, and I think the best thing I ever did was to take management classes. You’re probably already a pretty good photographer, right?”

Bashful nod.

“You’ll keep learning and developing your craft on your own if it’s something you love so much. Why not use college to learn the stuff that’s hardest for you but that you need to know about? Take some accounting and finance classes. The business side of any business takes a lot of time.”

She gave me a huge smile. “That’s a great idea.” And later that week, “I think on P-Day I’m going to email my mom and have her re-enroll me at LDS Business College so I can get a degree in, you know, business.”

God go with you, sister.

I wonder why I don’t take my own advice more often. Instead of avoiding the hard stuff, why don’t I dig in and learn it? It’s not as though there’s a better or easier time. It will help me in the long run.

What would you learn if you had the chance to do so?


On prolonged sabbatical from her career in arts administration, Libby is a seamstress, editor, entrepreneur, and community volunteer. She has a husband and three children.

You may also like...

17 Responses

  1. KLC says:

    Loved this. My son is about to hit his one year mark as a missionary and has sent me several letters about school and career. He’s cursed with a very sharp mind and little inclination about where it should lead him.

  2. spunky says:

    This is brilliant, Libby– and so important with the younger age of missionaries, the older age people choose to marry, the economy and everything in between. I think missions can be a fine-tuning of what people will do professionally when they return, and so it can only benefit the missionaries when we encourage them to be the best they can be during and after the mission experience. Thank you for this!

  3. HokieKate says:

    Great perspective!

  4. You know me says:

    Excellent. From your college mate who now owns a small business and regrets mocking the business students.

  5. Heather says:

    Bless you! I love that you are bold and loving with the missionaries. They need your insight & wisdom.

  6. Quimby says:

    I don’t know, you might have given her some pretty bad advice. The Bishop of my ward when I was a teenager always liked to tell us about how a friend of his got into law school – he majored in photography, got a 4.0 GPA, and was accepted into a very prestigious law school on the basis of his undergrad grades. (Mind you I’m not saying photography is an easy major. I have no talent that way whatsoever. But for people who are good at it, it’s probably a pretty easy major.)

  7. Caroline says:

    Love this, Libby. I always ask this question of missionaries as well when I have dinner with them. I think it’s great that you gave this missionary such a practical suggestion. I often wish someone had sat me down and made me think more about actually carving out a viable career path.

  8. TopHat says:

    I’m doing an internship this summer and I’m 8 years out from graduating college, so I’m thinking about my co-interns and how they have been doing summer internships since their freshman year! That was never on my radar: just regular work. I did a degree in math thinking there’d always be jobs because it’s STEM, but had no idea what kind of jobs you can get with math. None of my professors did any guidance and that’s probably not their job anyway. I just remembered my brother did an engineering internship right after high school and I had no idea those sorts of things were available to me (I’m older, so by the time he had an internship, I was in college- almost graduating). No one let me know these things existed! I really think YW activities should incorporate more career planning because even universities don’t know how to get students into the workforce if they aren’t going into academia.

    • Emily U says:

      Yes, yes, yes! I would have really benefited from YW activities about career planning, and would have loved some examples of role models. Though that may have been challenging for my leaders to have come up with, since most women in my Utah neighborhood didn’t have careers. The only women I knew who worked when I was a teenager were teachers, retail workers, and my cousin who managed a hotel. Alas, acknowledging the reality that most women, even Mormon women, are employed at some point in their adult lives is at least rhetorically at odds with the Proc. One could argue that the Church’s job is spiritual development, but we’re also a Church that gives nontrivial attention to temporal well-being, so I wish we were better at attending to the needs of women that way.

    • Libby says:

      Mormonism frequently conflates the temporal and the spiritual, the mundane and the sublime. I would love to see any ward’s RS and YW pay as much attention to career counseling as they do to, say, food storage.

    • Rachel says:

      I would say universities often don’t know how how to get students into the workforce even if they are going into academia. And had similar experiences of missed opportunities I missed simply because I didn’t know they existed.

  9. Rachel says:

    The end made me tear up in a way that I was not expecting. Have you done any good in the world that day? Yes!

  10. Michelle says:

    Way to go, Libby. You definitely did NOT put your foot in your mouth by sharing that insight. The last part of this piece reminded me of this recent article at Raptitude.com: http://www.raptitude.com/2015/06/take-the-stairs/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Raptitudecom+%28Raptitude.com%29
    Looking forward to seeing you next month!

  11. J H Stanford says:

    Love you, Libby. This brought tears to my eyes. Wish I’d heard encouragement after I graduated. I do believe life would be very different right now.

Leave a Reply