If you know me, you know I love Rafa.
It started back in 2006 when Natalie and I went to a tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California with my cousin and his wife. Rafael Nadal (aka “Rafa”), a professional tennis player, was only 19 years old at the time. My cousin and I saw him practicing on one of the outer courts, so we sat down with just a handful of other people and watched him practice. No security guards, no fences, no media. Just a few people watching a kid practice tennis.
After he wrapped up his practice session, Rafa left the court and walked up the stairs right where my cousin and I were sitting. So, half-jokingly, I whipped out my camera and took this picture of my cousin with Rafa right behind him. We were pretty stoked.
Natalie and I had such a good time at the tournament, we decided to go back a few years later. It was that year when Rafa first reached the World #1 ranking. Wanting to out-do my last encounter with him, I was determined to actually get right up next to him. But it wasn’t going to be as easy this time. You see, Rafa was now world famous. So when I did find him, I had to push my way through a crowd of people to get to him. But I did it. I actually got right up next to him—and I even got it on video. My wedding day instantly became the second happiest day of my life.
When we went back a few years later, the crowd was even bigger. In fact, the tournament organizers put up a fence to keep the crazy fans (not me, but you know, the crazy fans) from getting too close to Rafa. I waited behind the fence for what seemed like forever just for the chance to maybe see him up close again. The waiting paid off, and Rafa eventually came over to the fence. I reached over and touched his shoulder. I posted the video on Instagram and all of my friends had a good laugh.
One particular year, I even waited for Rafa out in the parking lot after his night match. Creepy, I know. But man, it was such a thrill to be right next to him without the fences, security guards and huge crowds of people. I made a video about this encounter and posted it on YouTube. (The video below has been shortened from its original YouTube version for purposes of this post.)
Going to the tennis tournament in Indian Wells quickly became one of my favorite things to do—but maybe for the wrong reason.
The tournament was supposed to be a time when Natalie and I could just enjoy being together for a few days—watching some good tennis in a beautiful place, with beautiful weather. But to me, it started to become kind of a personal challenge to see if I could get closer and closer to Rafael Nadal. It became a bit of an obsession, to the point that sometimes I would leave my wife by herself during the tournament, just so I could go off and try to track Rafa down. I hate to say it, but Rafa became a distraction to me.
Distraction (noun): a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else.
We live in a world of distractions. We are constantly bombarded with things—countless things—that divert our attention from what really matters. Distractions can desensitize us and destroy us spiritually. They can keep us from seeing things as they really are.
As one writer for The New Yorker put it, “Distraction is the opposite of joy.”
Now, wait a minute. The opposite of joy? That seems a little extreme. Don’t these so-called “distractions” actually bring us joy?
Doesn’t scrolling my Instagram feed save me from boredom? Don’t advertisements help me find what I need to make my life more gratifying? Doesn’t technology actually make my life easier? Doesn’t having more money allow me to do more things? Don’t video games help me escape reality? Doesn’t binge watching Netflix entertain me?
Yes, all of this is true, initially. But as our attention becomes fixed on a phone screen, or preoccupied with wanting to buy something, or aimed at making life easier, or consumed with making more money, or carried away into a digital fantasy world or focused on a fictional TV series, we often miss what really matters.
Distractions can creep into our lives so subtly, so imperceptibly, that we may not even notice we are being distracted. They can start off as something well meaning, even something good. But in the end, they lead us down a path where we ultimately lose sight of what really matters—and we may ultimately lose sight of our divine identity and purpose.
Let me share a personal experience.
Wanting to escape the daily drag of being a fresh-out-of-law-school attorney in a big law firm, I started making YouTube videos about my family for fun. It took my mind off of work when I got home at night—it was a hobby that served a meaningful purpose.
But as people started watching my videos, I started to like the attention. If it felt good to have 300 viewers, I started to imagine what it would feel like to have 3,000 viewers. So, I started sending a barrage of video links to a famous YouTuber, hoping he would watch one of my videos. Well, one day he did, and he liked it. The next morning I had 16,000 people following me. I couldn’t believe it.
I didn’t go in to work that day. I stayed home and spent the whole day plotting and shooting a video for my new “fans.” I bought an expensive camera, a new computer, and new video editing software.
Well, those 16,000 fans turned into 100,000, then 200,000. Google started to pay me for making videos. Advertisers and production companies started to pay me for making videos. I often stayed up until 2:00 or 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning just to finish a video. Nights turned into editing sessions. Saturdays turned into filming days. Family time turned into video opportunities. In fact, life turned into one big video opportunity. Every week was a challenge to come up with something different—something better—than the week before. This went on for about 5 or 6 years.
Then one day it hit me, and I asked myself: Why am I doing this?
Well, I liked making the extra money, so that was one reason. I liked the feeling of tens of thousands of people watching my videos. I liked when people recognized me in public. I liked making people laugh. Sometimes when I was in big sports arenas or stadiums I would look around at all the people to try to quantify how many people were watching my videos, and I would think, “More people watched my last video than are in this entire stadium right now.” I liked that sense of accomplishment.
But for me, personally, all of these things became a distraction to what really mattered.
I spent so much time living behind a camera and a computer screen, that I wasn’t really present—with my family, with God, with myself.
Too many nights missed tucking my son into bed because I was too busy editing. Too many Saturday afternoons planned around making videos instead of making memories. Too many late-night conversations with my wife ignored because I was wearing headphones and staring at a screen. Too many nights without praying because I was either too busy or too tired. Too many hours studying video production instead of the scriptures.
It was a hard decision, but I decided to take a break from making YouTube videos.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, my interaction with my family became more frequent, and more genuine. I started praying more meaningfully again. I replaced late night editing sessions with late night gospel study. I started to remember what really mattered.
For those of you who are LDS (or “Mormon”) you are familiar of the story of the tree of life as told in the Book of Mormon. Lehi, a prophet and patriarch of a family, had a dream. In his dream, he saw a tree with fruit that was sweet beyond anything he had ever tasted. Desiring his family and others to partake of the fruit, he called to them. But there were obstacles in the way—distractions, you might say—that kept them from getting to the tree. There was a deep river of filthy water, intense mists of darkness, and a great building filled with people who were mocking those who had already tasted the fruit, or who were trying to make their way toward the tree.
But there was also a strait and narrow path, and along that path, an iron rod that led directly to the tree.
Many wandered off in the darkness and became lost. Many drowned in the river. Many felt their way through the darkness to reach the great and spacious building. But there were some, perhaps only few, who held to the iron rod and made their way to the tree of life.
Of Lehi’s vision, Jeffrey R. Holland said, “The principal point of the story is that the successful travelers resist all distractions.”
What is distracting you from the things that matter most? What is distracting you from becoming the best possible version of yourself—which is what God wants you to be?
“We are often unaware of the distractions which push us in a material direction and keep us from a Christ-centered focus. In essence we let celestial goals get sidetracked by telestial distractions.”
Are you distracted by doubt, when perhaps a little faith would help you to see things the way they really are? “Darkness [or doubt] reduces our ability to see clearly. It dims our vision of that which was at one time plain and clear…. Light, on the other hand, allows us to see things as they really are.”
Are you distracted by the enticement of money, when perhaps the essence of what you are looking for is really found in embracing the gospel? “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Are you distracted by the seemingly perfect lives of others around you, when perhaps the imperfections of your own life are exactly what Heavenly Father intended for you? What good is a “perfect” life that consists only of easy, trivial choices? Our imperfect—and sometimes difficult—lives are exactly what God intended to keep us grounded and engaged in the true purpose of our mortality.
Are you distracted by your digital devices, when perhaps what your family needs from you is your deliberate devotion?
Are you distracted by the desire to be entertained, when perhaps what would benefit you more is to be enlightened? I think the Church’s statement in response to the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” encapsulates this point: “The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”
Are you distracted by despair, when there is every reason to have hope? “No matter how bleak the chapter of our lives may look today, because of the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we may hope and be assured that the ending of the book of our lives will exceed our grandest expectations.” There is always a reason to hope.
It is inevitable that at some point, and more likely at many points, in our lives, we will become distracted by things that are of little importance in the whole scheme of things. And when we realize we have lost sight of what is most important, we will feel the anguish and sorrow of having been misled by our own choices.
But it is never too late to reach out for that iron rod and to redirect our focus back on what matters most. And when we do, the promised blessings will come.
If you’ve become distracted by things that keep you from becoming the best possible version of yourself—that is, who God intended you to be—then change. Refocus. “While there may be undefeated seasons in sports, there aren’t any in life. But I testify that the Savior Jesus Christ worked out a perfect Atonement and gave us the gift of repentance—our path back to a perfect brightness of hope and a winning life.”
***Side Note: To those of you wondering what this all means for my future on YouTube, the answers are in Footnotes 2 and 3 below.***
 Joshua Rothman, A New Theory of Distraction, The New Yorker, June 16, 2015, Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2018 from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/a-new-theory-of-distraction.
 Important Note: I know many AWESOME people that make YouTube videos. This post is not in any way intended to be negative toward those who make YouTube videos. So many people have been able to do a lot of good, and in many cases make a living for themselves and their families by making videos on a variety of topics. For me, however, YouTube was never going to be that. It was a hobby, and the subject was always my family. So this realization was personal to me. The realization that I was using what should have been family time and time for spiritual growth to instead stress about how to get more and more views was a personal realization, and I do not intend to project that on to anyone else, or anyone else’s circumstances or motives that are different than mine.
 I say I decided to take a “break” because truth be told, I am open to making videos again at some point. Certainly not as many, and not as frequently, but when I feel I can do it in a way that it won’t be a distraction to things that matter most to me, I may do it once again.
 Jeffrey R. Holland, Safety for the Soul, October 2009 General Conference
 Quentin L. Cook, Rejoice!, October 1996 General Conference
 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Bearers of Heavenly Light, October 2017 General Conference
 Matthew 6:21; see also 3 Nephi 13:21.
 Morgan Jones, How the LDS Church’s response to ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical is actually working, Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2018 https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865667313/How-the-LDS-Churchs-response-to-The-Book-of-Mormon-musical-is-actually-working.html.
 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, The Infinite Power of Hope, October 2008 General Conference
 Stephen W. Owen, Repentance is Always Positive, October 2017 General Conference