Do you know who Sarah Sellers is?
Unless you’re an avid follower of the marathon running scene, you probably don’t. I didn’t either until her profile in the New York Times came out, “Sarah Sellers and the Craziest Schedule in Running.” My dad sent me this article along with his unsolicited commentary: she puts us all to shame.
No excuses for us, I replied. Sounded like a challenge to me.
Here’s a brief recap so you yourself don’t need to Google her astonishing, late-blooming running career. Sellers came out of nowhere last year as the 2nd place finisher in the cold and damp affair that was the 2018 Boston Marathon. She had run in college but never pursued it professionally, as most top finishers at Boston do.
Instead, she works full-time as a nurse anesthetist and fits in her practice schedule around sporadic hours. Sometimes, Sellers rises at 4.a.m for a “quick” 12-mile run before her shift starts at 7.
Her schedule works for her. It allows her to divvy up her focus between multiple passions so that one pursuit never becomes all-consuming or too intense. Sellers justifies this approach by claiming that to run full-time would leave her too invested, more prone to injury or heartbreak. After all, what’s one bad race when you’ve seen someone at the brink of death during your hospital shift mere hours before?
But all I could think about while reading this article is whether I measure up to Sarah Sellers, whether I am a worthy opponent in the competition of the World’s Busiest Schedule. I have the added advantage of being a college student. We are naturally prone to overbooking and we certainly don’t know when to say “when.”
My subconscious inclination to compare us leads me questioning this competition that most people engage in with glee. Somewhere down the line, success was equated to staying busy. And that definition stuck.
Now, we take pleasure in comparing schedules. Having too much free time is seen as a sign of weakness. If you’re not constantly working to better yourself or to climb the ranks, you’ll never reach the finish line. We do this in subtle ways. We drop little comments that imply our rare free time is more valuable than our peers’. Sorry to cancel again… I’m just so busy. Or, do you think you can handle it? I have a lot on my plate right now.
I get it. Having free time in college feels inherently wrong. If there’s even an hour with no scheduled programming in between my classes, I get antsy. I yearn to be doing something, to feel my presence needed somewhere.
The culture of staying busy is inherently neoliberal. We as a country have adopted this philosophy, and along with it, the belief that to get where you want to go you just need to work harder than the person next to you. If they up their intensity level, you simply have to do the same. The result is a rat race of success, one in which the wheels of the population never stop turning and “Netflix time” grows increasingly scarce.
This is a culture that has found its home on the college campus, but resides permanently in the American heart. More than 66% of Americans work over 40 hours a week. At least 134 countries have legal caps on the number of hours an individual can work; the U.S., notably, does not.
So Sarah Sellers is certainly an American inspiration. I admire her as an athlete and as a person with a packed schedule. Yet she’s also not an anomaly. Chances are, you’re just as busy as she is.
You’re welcome to read the article to confirm or deny your suspicions. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/12/sports/sarah-sellers-boston-marathon.html.
There’s also a good chance that like her, you’re working two full-time jobs or more. You’re a student and you’re something else. A student-body president, a double major, a club leader, an athlete, a researcher, an unpaid intern. Likely, you check off multiple boxes. Likely, you feel that you need to check off multiple boxes if you have any hope of standing out in the workforce.
And if you’ve already entered the workforce, you probably put more hours into your job than is asked of you. Maybe you feel it’s expected.
I cannot think of a cure, off the top of my head, for the college student’s compulsion to schedule out every minute of every day. It’s one of those phenomena that seems to be growing, not waning.
I will say, however, that having less free time does not necessarily mean winning. What I admire most about Sarah Sellers is that her busy schedule does not overburden her because she loves everything that she does. She derives great purpose and validation from running and from working in a hospital. So why give up either?
Maybe the advice that we college students need to hear is to focus on the pursuits which most fulfill us, as ~cheesy~ as that sounds. If buffing the resume is the sole reason we joined that club, that time might be more valuable spent on other things (even on Netflix).
A quick footnote: in the most recent 2019 Boston Marathon, Sellers cramped up and finished 19th in the women’s section. It does not seem to be phasing her much, and she continues to train.