Advice For A Homesick Elder

One of my step-brothers just started his two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like many of us who served a mission, especially those who served in a foreign country, he’s struggling with a bit of homesickness.

Here’s a recent email I sent him. Feel free to send it along to anyone who might need it.

I feel your pain man. We’ve all been there. Here are a few thoughts:
Confide in your trainer, other missionaries, mission leaders & mission president. They’ll have lots of experience and advice, especially because they have the authority to receive revelation on your behalf. Humbly seek them out, ask for help & guidance, and be willing to do what they say.
Serve. Serve your companion. Serve people in your ward. Serve random people on the street. Want to know something interesting about charity? Read Moroni 7. You cannot have charity for yourself, it is only charity when it’s outward love and concern for the well being of others. (That’s the “forget yourself” part of the quote.)
There are specific answers for you if you’ll seek them out. The scriptures talk about “diligently searching”. That signifies effort, that it may be hard. But, at least in my experience, it takes going through some tough, humbling times in order to get to a point where you’re willing to listen to those answers. They may be unexpected. They may be different than what you thought was possible. They may push you out of your comfort zone.
Ponder what it would look like if you didn’t have homesickness. What would you do with the extra time and energy you currently spend being homesick? What does a version of Elder Nielson look like without the homesickness? How does he get up? What does he do in the mornings? How does he interact with his companion? How does he serve? How does he teach?
• There’s a line of thinking that says that everything comes down to two base emotions: pleasure and pain. Those two emotions are the reason we do anything, or don’t do anything. So, if you’re homesick, it stands to reason that it’s one of two things. Pleasure: the mission is hard, and so it’s more “pleasurable” to think back to your life before your mission in a “homesick” way. You’re homesick because it’s easier. That speaks to the pain as well – missions are hard. You feel incapable, slow, behind, like an outsider, or unwelcome. These are the emotions satan uses to reinforce the pain of becoming the missionary the Lord wants you to be. Missions are HARD. You’ve literally ripped yourself from your life that you’ve known forever and have been dropped into a new country, with a new language, new people, new cultures, etc. That’s HARD for ANYONE, especially an 18/19 year old kid who doesn’t speak the language and has nothing to hold onto that’s a constant thing.
Except that you do. You have the Lord. You have the scriptures. You have the Holy Ghost, that’s capable of teaching you all things, guiding you, etc. So you’ve got to rely on the things that remain constant.
• There’s another thought that comes from Stoicism, a fairly old philosophy that even pre-dates Christianity. One of the principles of Stoicism that I love says that “The Obstacle Is The Way”. What’s it mean? It means that whatever your biggest obstacle is – take the feeling of homesickness – rather than trying to ignore it, or forget it/not think about it, you actually turn and lean into it. You take homesickness and use it to make you a better missionary. One example of how to do that: you’re homesick because you miss your family. Your mom and your siblings. Imagine that feeling multiplied 100x – that’s probably what people who have lost a loved one to death or tragedy are feeling when they think about what happens after they die. You can use your experience of experiencing the emotions around homesickness to better connect with investigators and teach them about the plan of salvation. That’s just one idea.
You can use the feelings of homesickness to strengthen the relationship you have with your companion and other missionaries. Treat them like brothers. Learn about their lives, find commonalities, grow closer together. They become your surrogate family while you’re away, and those friendships last forever. As I type this I’m right in the middle of working on a project that my mission trainer sent me – we work together every few months on film projects even though we’ve been home for over 12 years.
See if there’s a way to use “the obstacle is the way” when it comes to this trial, because that practice you put in on dealing with this struggle will help you with the next, and the next, and the next.
• On my mission, about 6 or 8 months in, I got a call from the mission president. In the MTC I was the district leader, and we had 6 elders and 4 sisters. We all got really close, and I felt a great love for the sisters especially, because I knew how hard it was for some of them to leave on the mission.
On this call, I found out that one of the sisters, sister Dickens, had gone home early from depression. She had some heavy stuff she was dealing with, and over thanksgiving break in 2003, she committed suicide. She took her life because she couldn’t overcome the stuff in her head.
The reason I tell you this is not to scare you. It’s because going through that on the mission helped me tremendously when I returned home a few years later and found out my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I was there, five years and a few months after that, in the hospital when she took her last breath. I closed her eyes after her spirit had left her body, and felt peace. I knew where she had gone. I know that my experience would have been incredibly different if I had not had a personal experience with the death of a friend prior to that. Going through this hard time is going to make you stronger and better and a stronger instrument for the Lord – as long as you don’t give up and don’t let it get the best of you. It’s going to be hard. There will be harder things down the road. Decide now that when you have hard times that you are determined to figure it out, press on, endure, and make it through.
The Lord needs you, Elder. You specifically. You’ve been called and put in the mission and the area and companionship you have been put in because there’s no one else on earth that can do what you can do for the people you’re there to serve. So whenever you find yourself getting homesick, take a step back, try to see a broader perspective, and realize that you’re there to become the person the Lord needs you to be to help his work move forward, but also that there are people specifically praying for you, who need you to serve them, and they need every bit of you. So, in those immortal words, forget yourself, and go to work. 

The Resistance Is Real

Guys. The resistance. It’s real.
 
Two days ago I parted ways with my business that I’ve been running for about 10 years now. The moments and days that have followed have me realizing that my options are infinite. That feeling is equal parts motivating and crippling. 
 
If you can do anything you want, how do you decide what is and isn’t valuable? How do you define “value” in the first place? Why seek “something of value” at all?
 
After the crippling thoughts came the crippling guilt . “What if the thing I want to do isn’t big enough? Isn’t valuable enough? Doesn’t provide value to the “right” people? Or provides more value to me than it does to others?
 
What if what I’m “supposed” to be doing is much, much bigger than what I’m considering doing?
 
If you’re looking for answers to these questions as well, I’m sorry. This isn’t that kind of a post.
 
The thing I realized today is that all these issues do one thing well: prevent you from creating anything at all. 
 
Questions like these are ones that I’ll never be able to answer. They only serve “the resistance”, as Steven Pressfield calls it.
 
They prevent you from writing, from creating, from putting your art into the world.
 
To divert a little bit, I love Seth Godin’s definition of “art”, that it’s the idea that a human puts out into the world. Whether it’s received or not is irrelevant.
 
So, after two days of crippling questions and expectations and fighting the resistance, I opened wordpress and started typing. This is what came out.
 
There’s no such thing as “writer’s block”. I stand by that. Because I didn’t have anything to write about, that is, until I started writing. That’s what I’m going to try and do when the resistance shows up again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.
 
When the resistance comes, (figuratively) get out your pen, and write. 

“Do Not Seek To Follow In The Footsteps Of The Wise, Seek What They Sought.”

This quote is from Matsuo Basho, the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. I heard it quoted by John August during an episode of the Scriptnotes podcast, one of my weekly must-listens.

It’s rare that I stop a podcast, rewind it, and transcribe it word for word, but this was one of those times. I had to pull over as I was driving at the time, but I knew this quote was important.

For the last ten years or so, most of my adult life I guess, I’ve been obsessed with reading non-fiction books. I think it stems to a false belief that somewhere, in one of these books, if I just read enough to find the right one, is the answer to all of my questions, and all of my problems. It must be there! The promises on the back covers of these books claimed to have the answers that I was seeking, who was I to doubt these blurbs from other famous authors?

This bit of wisdom from 400+ years ago just threw that belief out the window. I knew it didn’t work that way, yet I still persisted in my fruitless search.

If you posed a question I could probably tell you exactly what Tim Ferriss or Gary Vaynerchuk or Seth Godin would say, with proper and inflection and everything. It’s rather pathetic the amount of time I’ve spent listening to and reading the words of these guys, with not much to show for it.

I’m inferring a bit but I believe that this quote is saying that each of our paths will be different, and following the path of another won’t work. The path to enlightenment or knowledge or understanding or answers is to seek what they have sought. What were these authors after? What is it that we should be seeking?

With this new direction in mind, there are some changes I’m making in my life that will allow me to seek my own path and find what it is I’m looking for. If you’re like me, subscribed to too many email newsletters, with a backlog of books to get through, might I suggest you do the same.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.

 

What It Takes To Become An Entrepreneur

I write this late at night, laying in a hammock strung between two incredible trees.

And I had this thought. Becoming an entrepreneur is a lot like what it takes for a seed to become a tree.

A seed starts the process when planted. It has no idea what it is going to look like in 5 or 10 or 100 years, but it starts anyway.

It’s the only thing it can do. Grow or die.

It starts small. The simplest thing could kill it at a moments notice that it has no control over. A fire. A drought. A flood. A footstep.

Yet it still grows. It’s the only thing it can do.

It knows what kind of tree it is, but not exactly what it will look like – how many leaves or branches, how tall or wide it will grow, how many trees just like it will spring up around it fighting for the same sun and water.

It starts out rather unimpressive. There’s no quick way to become a full grown tree, there’s only time, weathering the seasons each year until it becomes old and unwavering.

It can grow through or around the impediments in its way – through rock or cement. Often, the harder it’s journey to maturity the stronger it becomes in the end, as its roots have had to grow deeper, branch out further in order to provide the proper foundation for growth.

I’m sure there’s more correlations to be found – hopefully you’ll share yours in the comments.

Thanks for reading 🙂