John Roderick and the Myth of No Effort

We’re almost done releasing the talk videos from the first day of XOXO 2016—including Mystery Show’s Starlee Kine, rapper/producer Sammus, Yelp whistleblower Talia Jane, and the brilliant Neil Cicierega. They’re all great. You should watch them.

Today’s talk is from John Roderick, the frontman and songwriter for The Long Winters and the bearded half of the Roderick on the Line podcast with Merlin Mann.

Roderick talks about a trap I see creative people fall into often, which he calls “the myth of no effort”—the damaging lie that creative work should feel easy if you were any good, while simultaneously feeling that anything that feels easy and natural to you is, by nature, worthless.

When making anything feels challenging, you feel inadequate. But when it feels easy, you feel like a fraud and the work is illegitimate.

This talk was a little polarizing. While I heard many attendees say this was one of their favorite talks, I saw some people who really didn’t like it. As far as I can tell, they thought Roderick was saying that only hard things are worth doing.

But I think it’s pretty clear he’s trying to debunk that idea. Some things will feel easy for you and some will take incredible effort, but you shouldn’t let that reflect on you or the quality, value, or significance of what you’ve made.

Making Roderick on the Line is, as he said, the thing he’s most proud of that he’s ever done. But it felt illegitimate because it was so easy to do. Writing music is incredibly hard for him, but it’s also meaningful and important to him, and something he’s returning to—fighting the feeling that just because it takes effort doesn’t mean you’re not meant to do it.