014 – From Knife Sales to Piano Teacher: Three Life Lessons

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Episode Summary

Life lessons from my brief time in the sales industry more than 20 years ago that have stayed with me to this day.


Items Mentioned

Cutco 4“ Trimmer knife (Amazon Affiliate Link)

Episode #11 – Practice What You Preach…Literally (The Piano Pantry Podcast)

Webinar: Connect and Engage: Professional Development Resources for the Independent Music Teacher


There’s a good chance there’s at least one person out there listening who, like me, spent some of their college work days as a sales rep. for Cutco Cutlery. I find it somewhat hilarious that in the year or two I spent selling knives, I didn’t even actually cook. Thus is the life of many-a-college Cutco sales reps, really. I also find it funny it was somewhat providential that while I didn’t cook back then, eventually cooking would become one of my life joys.

While I actually did quite well – hitting the fist major sales milestone of $25,000 in sales, I quickly realized sales in general was not for me. After purchasing my own ultimate set – which I use and love to this day – I moved on to my music teaching career.

In today’s episode we’re going to talk about some of the life lessons I learned from the sales industry more than 20 years ago that have stayed with me to this day. While there are all sorts of analogies I could make between knife selling and music teaching, for today’s episode, I’ve narrowed it down to three.

Also, just a disclaimer that this is not a paid ad, just some piano teacher life talk, as usual.

Welcome to the Piano Pantry Podcast where together we live life as independent music teachers. I’m your host, Amy Chaplin. In this space we talk about all things teacher-life related from organizing our studios to getting dinner on the table and all that comes between. You’ll get loads of easily-actionable tips on organizing and managing your studio while balancing life and home.

I’ll never forget the day I interviewed to sell Cutco. My car was out of service so I asked one of my guy friends at college to drive me 40 minutes to the interview with a promise to buy him dinner after. Little did I realize that it wasn’t just an interview but also the initial 3-4 hour training. Bless his heart, he sat in his car in the parking lot the whole time not knowing how much longer I would be. While this honestly has nothing to do with what we’re about to talk about, it’s just one of those life moments that still haunt me a little because I just felt so horrible that I put him in that situation. While I didn’t know better, in hind-sight, I should have just told the manager that I couldn’t stay.


The first thing I learned early on in my training is relational – that is that we should meet and match the energy of the person in front of us.

One of the training segments was on building comfort and trust with the customer. We ran through different scenarios where we would meet customers with a variety of demeanors and personalities and have to practice greeting them in a mirrored manner.

Let’s imagine this in a couple of scenarios with our students. (Give some examples.)

Perhaps you’ve just finished up with a really talkative outgoing student who highly engages with you and really drives your own energy. As they walk out the door, in comes your next student – a quiet elementary student who talks so softly sometimes you can’t even ear them.

Imagine how that student would feel if you come at them with the same temperament you approached the previous student.

The same goes in reverse…. (Spell it out)

Perhaps you have a student that is usually full of energy but you can see they walk in and seem really tired or distracted…

Sometimes the simplest of things can make the biggest difference in making meaningful connections with others. Human interaction is a two-way street. It’s not just about presenting ourselves but showing that we want to be intentional about meeting the person in front of us where they are as well. None of this is to say we should be inauthentic but simply to ease into our interactions by meeting energy levels.

The second lesson I learned from selling knives is that there’s not one knife that is meant to do everything. Sure, you could use your pearing knife to chop vegetables but it’s going to take you a whole lot longer and may actually even be more dangerous doing it that way. Food prep will be much easier and more efficient if we enlist a variety of tools in an appropriate manner.

At a minimum, I recommend owning a good chef’s nice that has a length and balance that is comfortable for you, a good pearing knife of course, a serrated bread knife, and a meat trimmer of some kind. Cutco’s 4” trimmer is a lovely size and the one knife I probably use the most next to my chef knife. My knife drawer has 10 different knives I use on a weekly basis as well as an additional 10 specialty knives I pull out when applicable.

We could point this analogy in a variety of directions – both life and profession-related. For the sake of time, let’s consider it in relation to one: practicing and teaching our students how to practice.

Just as your pearing knife was not meant to do it all, neither are we meant to use just one practice strategy. Just as it’s easy for us to reach for the knife we’re most comfortable with, so it can be easy for us and our students to use the practice strategies that feel the easiest or that we’re most used to.

Sometimes we reach for our favorite knife not just because we like it but because we’re just not really sure how to use the others appropriately. Learning to practice (and to use a variety of knives) takes intentionality – and practice.

By the way, if you are interested in getting some more tips on how to get more practice time in yourself as a teacher, check out episode #11 which I will link to in the show notes

The third lesson I learned from selling knives is that tools require regular care and maintenance.

Our knives should be sharpened at least once a year if not more often – a dull knife won’t get the job done nearly as easily as it could. The same goes for a broken knife. I mean, is that pearing knife with the broken tip really working for you as well as it could? The funny thing is, I think we sometimes don’t even realize that what we’re doing may not be working for us as well as it could because we’re creatures of habit and it’s easy to get used the way we do things.

Once again, I could make soooo many analogies here but we’ll go with this one: Just as we have to keep our knives sharp and in good repair, so we have to keep up with the tools at our dispense in the profession. Not only does this mean regular care and maintenance for our instruments and keeping up equipment that’s up to date but continuously reevaluating what tools we’re using to run our business and resources we’re putting time into. What may have been a go-to tool for you years ago may suddenly not be working or you may not have realize that there’s something better that could get the job done easier only if you’re willing to put a little time and effort into finding some better tools.

I once knew a teacher that after so many years teaching said they basically knew it all and didn’t need more professional development. Personally, I reject that idea and friends, you can call me out if ever you hear me saying otherwise. There’s always SOMETHING we can learn no matter how long we’ve been in the profession.

Believe it or not I didn’t plan this intentionally but as I was writing this episode it dawned on me that the day after this episode drops I’ll be giving a webinar hosted by Duet Partner called “Connect and Engage: Professional Development Resources for the Independent Music Teacher.” This free to you webinar is the PERFECT overview of a lot of tools that are at our disposal as studio teachers.

I’ll pop a link to that in the show notes. I believe the replay will be available for a month or so following the webinar but can’t remember exactly for certain.

Let’s recap today’s life lessons from knife sales to music teaching

  1. Meet the energy of the person in front of us
  2. Enlist a variety of tools and use them in an appropriate manner
  3. Give your tools regular care and maintenance

Thanks for being here today. If you enjoyed this episode, would you go over to Apple Podcasts to posts a review? Also, you can find me at PianoPantry.com, on Facebook at Piano Pantry or on Instagram at Amy Chaplin Piano. Hope to see you there.

Today’s fun fact is actually connected to my time at Cutco. That is, I have been skydiving. At the time I did it with 100% no fear. I’m not sure I could say the same thing today but I would definitely do it again. Of course, we did it tandem which means I was strapped to a pro but it was a thrill of a lifetime and something I’ll never forget. Thanks Cutco!