A volunteer is worth twenty pressed men – English Proverb
What does that mean?
Also seen as “worth 10 pressed men” and other numeric ratios.
A ‘press gang’ was a term for people conscripted, usually informally, by military units to do work for them. While technically legal, formalities were often ignored in the interest of expediency.
These people were forced, under threat of violence, imprisonment, or worse, to do the bidding of those who held the weapons. These people would usually be less than thrilled with this turn of events, and were not the most effective workers.
Thus the quote tells us that someone who wants to do something will do so with enthusiasm and vigor, and accomplish what 20 unenthusiastic and unmotivated people would accomplish.
Why is being a volunteer important?
This could be taken two ways. The first is to do something for someone else, usually for free, because you want to do so. The other is to be the person who is enthusiastic and vigorous in doing things, especially in one’s own life. Take a moment to think about that last part.
You’ve probably been told by someone you had to do something which you didn’t want to do. Were you a pressed person, or a volunteer? You’ve probably also been told at some point you had to do something, and it was something you enjoyed. Which were you then, a pressed person or a volunteer?
Consider how effective you can be when you are doing something you enjoy or want to do. Now consider how much less you do when you are pressed to do it. Perhaps the 1:20 ratio is a bit much, but you have probably felt the resentment of being forced to do something you don’t enjoy doing.
That feeling of resentment of being forced to do something you didn’t want is a stark contrast to the joy of being allowed to do something you enjoy. And that is why being a volunteer is important. But volunteering isn’t only for the other people, you can be a volunteer in your own life, doing the things you love to do.
Where can I apply this in my life?
While being a volunteer is a great thing, as is helping others, I would like you to consider doing some volunteer work for yourself. What do you like to do, even enjoy doing? Not the idle tasks, but the things which move and energize you? What are they, and how often do you do them?
It could be something as simple as reading about a topic you find interesting. It could also be about a skill you are trying to develop or increase. It could be almost anything. What do you want to get out of life? How do you want to improve or grow? What would take you to the next level? What can you do to get there?
Think about how you feel when someone tells you that you must eat better or exercise more. Does that feel natural, or does it feel like an imposition of their will on you? Are you the volunteer or the pressed person at that point? How do you react to the instructions or demands? What does your attitude have to do with it?
Now consider the things you have chosen to change in your life. When you want to change, when you desire change, you are the volunteer. You take to the task willingly and with relish. You do it because YOU want to do it. You do it with more energy and greater effort than when it is being forced on you, don’t you?
Are you where you want to be in life? What would you like to volunteer to do with your future? You can volunteer to move your own goals forward. Do you consider your job to be something you enjoy, or do you feel closer to being a pressed person? How much better would your life be if you could find something to like doing that much? What does your attitude have to do with it?
While we may need to do things to get what we need in life, can you find something else you enjoy, on which you can focus in your other hours? Can you find something in your life you like to do so much you would volunteer to do it? We all have things which fall into this category, but try to find the ones which are the most productive. Sleeping or eating all day don’t count, right?
Ultimately, it is about what you are willing to decide to volunteer to do. If you can turn resentment into enjoyment, you can turn yourself from a pressed person to a volunteer. With this change of focus comes increased enjoyment, a sense of fulfillment and a great swing in your motivation, changing from negative to positive.