A Future Only God Can See for You: A Guide for Teen and Young Adult Women on Preparing to Lead, by Susan R. Madsen. Springville, Utah: CFI: An Imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc., 2021. 199 pages.

Susan R. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. Previously she held a similar position at Utah Valley University. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, a master’s from Portland State University, and a doctorate from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Madsen is considered one of the top global scholars and thought leaders on women and leadership and has authored many books and hundreds of articles, chapters, and reports. She is a sought-after speaker.

The thesis of the book is that young women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must prepare themselves for leadership positions, and that God has called them to lead. As a member of the Church, Dr. Madsen has worked to help women achieve this potential, and notes that she felt she has been called by the Savior to do so. She comments about women in the modern era: “We are needed, and the time is now.” To the girls and women reading this book, she encourages them to “find knowledge, motivation, inspiration, and courage to step out of your comfort zone to become the daughter of God He needs you to become in these latter days. Our Heavenly Parents are depending on us. Let’s begin.”

The book is divided into an introduction, four parts consisting of sixteen chapters, a list of works cited, and an index.

Part I is entitled “Leadership.” In its chapters, Dr. Madsen notes that 1) there is often a gap between what one is told and what one actually does, or feels, or how one is treated. Girls and women in the CoJC are told, “You are daughters of God.” But if they are shunted aside, belittled, treated as less than boys and men, ignored in classes and discussions, it is hard for them to believe that statement. It is well known that girls will usually defer to boys in class discussions or in any mixed group, unless the teacher/leader makes a conscious effort to call on them. Curing this is not only a matter for the girls and women, it is also a matter for their leaders and teachers, both men and women. It is consciousness raising.

2) She notes that education is important, and so is leadership training. Women are in leadership positions everywhere—beginning with raising a family—teaching children reading, math, and all kinds of other topics, including self-worth. That is important leading! If she is a teacher, or holds any office in the Church, or holds a civic position, or down the road if she becomes the sole breadwinner—all of these women need leadership skills. Teachers of women should be aware of these needs and should not do anything to cause women to lose self-worth or to feel less about themselves. Teachers should strive to give women self-confidence.

3) She says, don’t wait for a formal calling. Do things on your own! She was not formally called to write her book, but she saw the need and felt God wanted her to do so, so she acted. Girls and women should not wait for formal callings. We are told to do many good things of our own free will.

4) She provides encouraging quotes. On page 65, she quotes Sheri Dew: “Surely, then, our omniscient Father [with help from Heavenly Mother] gave … His daughters the exact gifts, talents, privileges, responsibilities, opportunities, challenges, and divine errands we would need to help us stretch, struggle, serve, and eventually qualify for the gift of exaltation.” Virginia H. Pearce: “Unity depends on our recognizing that each of us has different talents and skills to contribute—and that by uniting them, we can function as a whole.”

Part II is entitled “Preparing to Lead.” It includes Chapters 5–10.

Chapter 5 deals with confidence. A 2015 address by President Nelson mentions 14 things that LDS sisters need to become and do. These have to do with living righteously, developing strong families, receiving personal revelation, defending the truth, having courage, moving forward in leadership. The chapter contrasts confidence, optimism, self-awareness, self-compassion, self-concept, self-efficacy, self-esteem, and self-worth.

Confidence is made up of three things: 1) genetics; 2) upbringing and socialization; 3) one’s own choices. Genetics have to do with the inherent differences between females and males and also the individual differences due to one’s genetic makeup. One can do little to change those, but one can learn how to deal with them. Socialization is related to how boys and girls are perceived in our society. For example, girls are socialized to seek praise more than boys, and they are taught to take fewer risks. Their traditional courses of study in school may in some cases be very limited (secretarial training, teacher training, sometimes nursing.) Even in the CoJC, activities may be different for boys and girls, as seen in annual youth camps. Boys may take sports in school (although girls do more of that than formerly) and other competitive activities such as speech and debate. Finally, one’s own choices—and overcoming limitations—are terribly important.

There are limiting behaviors: 1) Rumination, i.e., obsessive thinking, is basically selfish, according to Madsen. (One is reminded of the young Gordon B. Hinckley, who wrote home complaining about his mission, thinking he wasn’t accomplishing anything. His father wrote back and said, “Dear Gordon. Forget yourself and go to work.”) Dr. Madsen quotes Eleanor Roosevelt: “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” 2) Perfectionism, which can even be toxic. Women suffer more from it than men, such as in anorexia and bulimia. 3) Avoiding risks. Again, women do this more than men. People who are shy in public, feeling they don’t deserve to be given the responsibility they have, may have “imposter syndrome.” Moses is the classic example.

The solutions, of course, are to learn to get past these limiting behaviors. Madsen quotes Eleanor Roosevelt again: “You must do the thing you think you cannot.” And Eliza R. Snow: “I will go forward … I will smile at the rage of the tempest, and ride fearlessly and triumphantly across the boisterous ocean of circumstance… And the ‘testimony of Jesus’ will light up a lamp that will guide my vision through the portals of immortality, and will communicate to my understanding the glories of the Celestial kingdom.”

Chapter 6 is entitled “Gifts, Talents, and Strengths.” We all have unique gifts. But, Dr. Madsen observes, most girls and women struggle to see their distinct uniqueness. Gifts are special capacities or opportunities we receive without having earned them or without any special effort on our part. Talents are innate natural abilities. Strengths are developed talents. That takes effort over years. We may have more talents than we can handle, and in that case we must choose which talents to develop.

Chapter 7 is entitled “Mindsets.” These are sets of attitudes that persons may possess. Fixed mindsets are not desirable; they assume that one cannot be changed, e.g., one is smart or not, that one’s intelligence is carved in stone. Such individuals resist challenges; if they fail they don’t want to try again, feeling that failure is a sign of incompetence. They blame themselves, thinking “I am stupid,” or “I suck.” They may feel they deserve entitlements.

Dr. Madsen uses what she calls “growth mindsets” in her teaching. These presume that one’s basic abilities can improve, through effort. They focus on becoming. For them failure is an opportunity, not a tragedy. They love what they are doing even if there are difficulties.

She focuses on two special mindsets: 1) Learning to forgive, while recognizing that that may take time. She provides significant quotes from Elders Ballard and Holland. 2) Use your experiences, but do not be used by them. Reflect on them; learn from them. She provides strategies, not detailed here, for dealing with the sensitive topics of this chapter.

In Chapter 8, the author speaks of the importance of education. She provides a quote from President Nelson: “…The critical difference between your just hoping for good things for mankind and your being able to do good things for mankind is education.”

Sometimes we hear the advice that women should get an education in case their husbands die, so they can support their families. (This has been called the “mattress theory” of education, that it provides something for women to fall back on.) This is good as far as it goes, but it falls far short of the meaning of education for women. In the first place, education is important for the woman herself; it gives her self-confidence, a knowledge that she has self-worth—that she can make a difference in the world because she understands something about it. Second, it is important for her family; it provides an example to her children, it enables her to teach them in many ways and in many fields. I know from my own teaching that if one has a good background in what one is teaching, that it gives one confidence in the classroom. One knows more than the students, but there are always questions from them that one can’t answer, and that’s okay. Third, education gives a woman background as she interacts with the world—whether in a teaching or administrative calling in the Church, or in civic duties she may have. One only has to listen to the talks that wives of general authorities give. They are generally well-educated and it shows.

A quote from Brigham Young, provided by the author, is relevant: “You educate a man, you educate a man. You educate a woman, you educate a generation.” Elder Uchtdorf said that for members of the Church, “… education is not merely a good idea—it’s a commandment.”

Getting a college education changes lives. But young sisters in the Church still get mixed messages—that to be a good Latter-day Saint mother, they don’t need to go to college. Yet hundreds of studies have shown that a college education helps women in all areas of their lives.

Dr. Madsen, in her research, has identified how education offers benefits in six areas: parenting, civic and community engagement, health and well-being, self-development, intellectual development, as well as in boosting societal and economic outcomes. Simple examples from parenting abound: educated mothers are more likely to give birth to healthy babies because they are less likely to consume alcohol or to smoke; they spend more time reading to their children; children of educated parents have less self-doubt and have better chances in college for themselves.

Educated communities are safer. For every year of increase in the average schooling level, there is a 30% decrease in murder. Adults with bachelor’s degrees will earn on average a million dollars more than those with high school diplomas. Many, many leaders in the CoJC have encouraged education for women. Dr. Madsen’s father got a PhD when she was about sixteen years old. That was a strong motivation for her to seek higher education, even as she was raising a family. Yet some members of her ward were critical of her doing so. (The second time one sister told her she was ignoring her children, she looked the woman in the eye and said, “I’m working on my PhD because God told me to!” That ended the conversation.) I am reminded of Susan Easton Black, surely one of the major contributors to Church writing and scholarship, whose visiting teacher took care of her three sons so she could complete her PhD. My own maternal grandmother, who earned a Master’s degree in English literature and who taught in the BYU and U of U extension divisions, contributed immeasurably to the motivation for my own family’s education. Dr. Madsen says she didn’t know at the time why she was prompted to finish her education, but now looking back she can see how the puzzle pieces fit together.

Chapter 9: “Purposes and Callings.”

The term “calling” was created in 1522 by Martin Luther. His view was that everyone had a call from God. The author provides a quote from Gordon T. Smith: ‘’For each individual there is a specific call … a reason for being…” Dr. Madsen offers her own remarks. She says that her research shows that nearly all Latter-day Saint women regard raising and nurturing children to be the most important calling they can have in life. But despite the reference to a “specific call” by Smith above, she believes that God has many life callings for each one of us. (After all, children grow up and leave—then what?) Mothering is not the only purpose in life; we can have multiple purposes. My own wife had an active life in scouting (even winning the Silver Beaver award); she did artwork which hung in our home; and she tutored about 75 children, saving some of them. In addition, she held many Church callings. (Dr. Madsen does make clear that she regards mothering as her greatest calling.)

“Purpose and calling can be incredibly powerful … I feel called to do work as a daughter, mother, spouse, Church member, professor, writer, community and social justice advocate, and women’s leadership scholar.” Quite a list! She says that this sense of calling gets her up in the morning with energy, drives her daily decisions, and brings her peace. She feels deeply and personally about girls and women finding the various “callings” they have in life … to serve others … and our Heavenly Father. They may change according to circumstances and past experience. Whatever they are, we can make the most of them. Dr. Madsen quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Every calling is great when greatly pursued.”

Girls and women are often socialized to view their roles as limited. They may fear judgment about what they do. My grandmother, mentioned above, worked to support her husband in the early 1900s as he earned his PhD at the University of Chicago, and received much criticism from others (but was supported by a prominent female Church leader.) God will guide one in choosing one’s calling. “Listening to the Lord is the only way we can uncover that future only God can see for us.” She quotes Mother Teresa: “Very often I feel like a little pencil in God’s Hands. He does the writing. He does the thinking. He does the movement. I have only to be the pencil.” Elaine Dalton: “Never before has there been a time of such limitless opportunity to connect with others in the world…”

Dr. Madsen discusses four levels of service: 1) home and family; 2) church; 3) community; 4) workplace. Again, she emphasizes that one not need wait for a formal calling: one can act wherever one sees a need. She lists ways in which one can uncover callings: 1) seek personal revelation; 2) continue to journal; 3) explore Potential efforts, initiatives and causes; 4) identify and interpret the call; 5) pursue your call.

She closes this chapter with several quotes, all relating to the satisfaction of and joy of finding one’s calling(s), in which one can serve God and others. “We were born at this very time for a specific reason. Uncovering our calling is part of our journey…”

Chapter 10 deals with identity, which is “the distinguishing character … of an individual,” “who a person is … the qualities of a person or group that make them different from others,” or “the condition of being oneself and not another.” The first sentence of the Young Women theme highlights who you are: ”I am a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny.” I (this reviewer) have seen the remarkable effect of simply telling a woman she is a daughter of God. Dr. Madsen discusses its importance: “… when I truly ponder the role of women in these latter days, I feel honored to be trusted by the Lord to be one.” She quotes Elder Bednar about the unique combination of traits of women that is needed to implement the plan of happiness, and she says, “Girls and women need to see faithful, strong, and competent women around them to envision what they can become in the future themselves.” She continues, “We have a need to see ourselves reflected in our role models and leaders. I also agree with other Church writers who have discussed the power that comes when women learn doctrine from other women, including talks given in general conference.”

Dr. Madsen supplies a variety of quotes, from women such as Melissa Inouye, Sheri L. Dew, Susa Young Gates, and Valerie Hudson. Some of these quotes are on Heavenly Mother, and she notes that she is “thrilled” that Heavenly Mother is being more frequently discussed than before. She can be a role model, and we can pray to understand more about Her.

“So who are you? Your identities can include being a daughter of earthly and Heavenly Parents. They can also include roles like sister, niece, aunt, young woman of color, athlete, active Church member, class president, outdoor enthusiast, community volunteer, musician, artist, introvert, friend … and more.” But then Dr. Madsen discusses the troubling recent trend of focusing on external appearance instead of internal matters of identity. If you focus on what your body looks like, “it will damage your perception of who you truly are.”

Dr. Madsen treats leadership identity, noting first that you need to see yourself as a leader (“claiming”). “Granting” refers to the possibility of having someone recognize you and follow you. Finally, “endorsement” occurs when a group of people recognize you as a formal or informal leader for a project or some activity. These three can cement your leadership identity.

She says that she developed her identity in her youth by teaching piano and violin lessons, babysitting her five younger brothers, teaching dancing in preparation for an upcoming dance festival, taking on leadership roles in a variety of situations. She provides strategies for young women: Study the lives of women, observe faithful women, explore your identities [note the plural], claim, grant, and endorse [others.] You have no idea how many people in your life are waiting for you to lead the way… Seek to see yourself through God’s eyes, and that will make all the difference.

Part III: “Challenges” (includes Chapters 11–14)

Social media is the subject of Chapter 11. These sites can be a force for good, as Elder Gary E. Stevenson has noted, as in broadcasting General Conference and other Church programs. Unfortunately, though, they often cause problems for young people, especially girls. A 2018 Pew study found that 45% of teens were online almost constantly. Another 2018 study found that on the average, teens were spending almost nine hours every day online. Our Church leaders have constantly pointed out the dangers of spending so much time on social media.

Studies have shown that the “more time people spend on social media, the more likely they are to be lonely.” They have substituted electronic images for the real companionship of others. Bonnie L. Oscarson has noted that using personal devices can cause us to turn inward, forgetting that the essence of gospel living is service to others. A 2018 UK study showed that when girls increased their social media use, there was an increase in low self-esteem, depression, poor sleep, and poor body image. There is online pressure for girls to conform, and cyberbullying just makes things worse. The solution is simple: turn it off.

Other alarming social media trends: girls are now often posting provocative, sexually expressive photos of themselves on social media, often as a result of pressure from young men. In the past, girls would often confine information about themselves to diaries; now they may expose facts about themselves to the world on social media. A Twitter movement called “Proana” promotes anorexia. A team of academics used Twitter Search to find Proana accounts; they found 341 accounts and found that 97.9% of followers were teenaged girls. Young women may become preoccupied with presenting just the right image on social media platforms. They compare themselves with others.

On the subject of comparison, Dr. Madsen quotes Eleanor Roosevelt, in a famous saying: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” The last of these is, of course, gossip, which is certainly a form of comparison.

What appears on social media is only what people want you to see. So, you are seeing fakes—dressed up to appear beautiful. Young people need to be aware of the deception. Dr. Madsen provides strategies to handle this deception: set limits on the time you spend on social media; ask yourself if social media make you feel better or worse about yourself; audit your own behavior on social media (are you, for example, gossiping?); and focus more time on meaningful activities.

Chapter 12, “Body Image,” relates closely to the previous chapter on social media. Young women often question their looks, sometimes their weight, and then fall prey to anorexia or bulimia. Social media criticism will exacerbate that. Young women in the Church are taught that they are made in the Divine Image, but more visible social pressure sometimes obscures that.

Strangely, Utah women, despite the presence of the Church, are among the highest in the nation in obsession over body image. This manifests itself in millions of dollars spent on cosmetics, skin care, hair coloring, and breast implants. I suspect that pressure from men to “look nice” may have something to do with that.

As with previous chapters, Dr. Madsen provides a list of strategies for dealing with the problem: 1) try a media “fast” by avoiding it for a time; 2) ask yourself if you are spending too much time on body image; 3) become more “self-compassionate”—affirm that you are doing your best. Don’t beat yourself up. Realize that you are a daughter of God. Use the gift of your body to further your work, preparing for that future only God can see for you.

Chapter 13, “Mental Health,” deals with the mental states we feel. Although not often discussed, mental health is a serious concern in our society. It used to be that mentally handicapped persons were hidden away; this, fortunately, has improved. But mental illnesses are still common. They may be associated with matters such as poor self-image, poverty, genetic inheritance, abuse, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorder, tendencies to suicide, or depression. With suicide in particular, we are often afraid to discuss it, fearing that in doing so we will cause it to happen—but the opposite is true: openly talking about it may avoid it. Dr. Madsen believes that every young woman either will have one or more mental concerns herself or will know someone who does. It helps to remember that Christ is the Master Healer, that He can help you overcome mental concerns.

Suggestions for avoiding or coping with mental illness: learn to depend on yourself; don’t be unduly influenced by others’ opinions; use the strategies given in previous chapters; recognize that the social pressures discussed earlier in this book can be circumscribed—that you can limit them. Go outside daily, exercise, sleep, talk about your worries, find ways of serving others.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in a 2013 general conference talk, discussed mental health concerns, including his own struggles with it, and did so again in the April 2022 general conference. He suggested several ways of dealing with these struggles, including “the time-tested devotional practices that bring God into your life … seek[ing] the counsel of those who hold keys for your spiritual well-being,” and asking for priesthood blessings and taking the sacrament every week. Hold fast to the perfecting promises of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

The final chapter of this section, Chapter 14, deals with mixed messages. Although our general authorities have repeatedly counseled women on the importance of influencing and leading, many women in the Church find that hard to believe. They feel they have to fit into a mold, prescribed by society. They may get mixed messages from their leaders. Examples: The ideal woman should be married. If she has no children, she may be subtly judged, despite the fact that this may be the result of several physical problems, including the possibility that it may be the husband’s infertility as well as hers. Children who are unfaithful reflect badly on the parents. That has caused Dr. Madsen heartache herself. The ideal woman is a homemaker, who has hot breakfasts every morning, sews, cans, bakes bread, never yells at her kids, is soft-spoken, is not “uppity,” and is humble and selfless in every way. Patricia T. Holland, former counselor in the Young Women presidency, has humorously remarked that she wasn’t the right fit because she wasn’t good at sewing.

Society often gives women an either/or choice—be a mother or a professional. Be a mother or a civic leader. Dr. Madsen’s advice is to use personal revelation to find out what the Lord wants of you: “It is better to do what the Lord wants you to do than what you believe others are expecting you to do.”

A study discussed in a 2013 article by Texas A&M Professor Valerie Hudson showed that married couples in which both partners had an equal role were the happiest. And Sheri L. Dew, former counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, has also discussed the mixed messages that women get. Women in the workplace are often criticized. Dr. Madsen has sometimes been compelled to speak up when she hears hurtful remarks. To repeat: seek the Lord’s counsel first. His is the only opinion that matters.

Part IV, “Moving Forward,” has two short chapters. Chapter 15, “Personal Revelation,” recounts how that has been a rock for Dr. Madsen throughout her life. She has yearned for it, asked for it, depended on it, and found peace because of it. “The insights and confirmations I have received from God have been foundational in my decisions…” She shares her experiences with us in the hope that they will provide help and understanding for us.

In these last days, personal revelation is power. But to receive it takes work, as well as repentance and forgiveness. (I found it interesting that she puts forgiveness on the same level as repentance.) She remarks that to receive it takes persistence and a believing heart.

Personal revelation has been addressed in every general conference; the messages have increased over the years. President Nelson has asked us to pray about our concerns, fears, and weaknesses—and then listen! Doing this will help us grow into the principle of revelation. Elder Bednar asks how can we tell when we are prompted by the Holy Spirit. He says quit fussing about it, or worrying about or analyzing it. He says to keep our covenants and live the commandments and then the Spirit will come; your footsteps will be guided.

From her own experience, Dr. Madsen talks about being a youth leader in her ward. Picking counselors for presidencies sometimes seemed more logical than spiritual. Her Florida mission helped her a lot. She and her companion were absolutely guided daily. She followed the instructions in D&C 9:8–9 seriously, as she does today. Examples: 1) She was confused about choosing a husband, but after gentle counsel from her parents and brother, she prayed sincerely about the man she was dating and received a strong spiritual witness that he was right for her. 2) She applied for an associate vice-president’s position at her university, then forgot about it—then realized she was having a “stupor of thought.” She withdrew her application and a month later was guided to the work she is doing now. She is grateful for that revelation. She has been similarly guided in many ways through the years.

We can be guided, too. If we seek the Spirit, we will be guided line by line, receiving the revelation that is meant only for us. And that personal revelation will be the power you need to become a leader.

Chapter 16, “The Road Less Traveled,” refers to Robert Frost’s famous poem. Young women are invited to take the road less traveled, the road that God wants them to take—not the one society invites them to. Every one of you has a divinely inspired purpose. All you have to do is to find it.

Dr. Madsen felt called to write this book. It was not easy but it was fulfilling. It can guide each of you. Follow the instructions in each of the four parts. God needs us now, as President Nelson powerfully encouraged women in a 2015 conference talk—and it is now seven years later! Women have power through prayer, through attending the temple, through keeping their covenants, through their testimonies of the Savior and His Atonement, and through the help of angels.

Some final quotes invite women to “step out of the boat,” like Peter. President Emma Smith, at the founding of the Relief Society, said, “We are going to do something extraordinary.” Dr. Madsen says that that “we” refers to positive, committed Latter-day Saint women. President Nelson said: “We can choose to let God prevail in our lives, or not.” She says, “It is up to us … when we commit ourselves to Him fully … we will find our call, our purpose, true joy, and that future only God can see in us.”

There are 19 pages of cited works, attesting to the author’s in-depth scholarship in preparing this book. A five-and-a-half-page index completes the volume. There is a short biographical sketch about Dr. Madsen, as given in the opening of this review.

The book’s thesis, that young women in the CoJC must prepare themselves for leadership, is amply demonstrated. As a long-term advocate for women, I enthusiastically recommend that Church young women read this book. In fact, where possible, I suggest that it be used as a text or background for Church classes for women or for seminary.

Full Citation for this Article: Harrison, B. Kent (2022) "Book Review of A Future Only God Can See for You: A Guide for Teen and Young Adult Women on Preparing to Lead, by Susan R. Madsen," SquareTwo, Vol. 15 No. 1 (Spring 2022),, accessed <give access date>.

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