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Not At Any Price

January 7, 2019

The most disciplined man I ever met was a piano tuner. And I know he was disciplined because I wasn’t able to hire him.

It was while I was working for Microsoft. My lovely wife and I had just finished building our dream house. We’d spent ten years designing it and 18 months building it. It was a wonderful place to raise our kids. It was in the middle of a 5 acre forested lot. My neighbors also had 5 acre forested lots. The leftover old growth stumps were scattered amongst the 100 foot tall second growth firs, and hemlock and vine maples. (Well, the maples weren’t 100 feet.) Our backyard looked like a park.

We had a lovely music room. We installed my lovely wife’s 105 year old stand up grand piano. This piano, while over a hundred years old, had been hard used. It was missing one of the pedals. It was missing multiple hammers. Several of the keys were either stuck in the up or the down position.

I decided that as a gift to my lovely wife, I’d arrange to have it restored. I could repair and refinish the exterior, but I needed a professional to do the inside. I knew that it would cost more to repair it than it would be worth. Kind of like a restored Ford Mustang that costs $20,000 to restore and is worth $15,000 when you are done.

I assumed the piano would cost up to $1000 to restore. I expected it would be worth several hundred when we got done. But, it was worth it as a gift to my lovely wife.

I arranged for a piano repairman to come to our home. In preparation I stripped the exterior panels. The piano looked a little like a halloweeen skeleton that had been used as a pinata. With the interior laid bare the broken pieces were obvious. In fact, in some places, someone long ago had taken another hammer and glued it in place of one of the broken ones.

If anything, I was excited about the prospect of what a transformation it would be. I could hardly wait for repairman to show up. When he did, I eagerly led him into the music room.

Before even putting down his toolbox he turned to me and said,

Not at any price.

What do you mean?

Not at any price. I can’t fix your piano.

Is the damage too great?

It’s not that. But, I won’t do it.

I still don’t get it.

Look, obviously it will take a lot of work. And that will be very expensive.


But, when I get done, you won’t be happy with it. You’ll be upset that it was so expensive.

Okay, I get it. Don’t worry. I promise I won’t be upset.

Yes, you will.

I expect this will cost $800 to $1,000.

It won’t be worth nearly that much when you are done.

I know. But, it’s kind of a family heirloom.

But, you will still not be happy spending a thousand dollars for a piano worth half that.

But, I’m telling you, I will. In fact, just tell me how much it will cost and I’ll pay you in advance.

Not at any price.

And with that, he turned and left my house.

I was dumbfounded. In fact, even now, years later, I cannot think of anything I could have told him to make him take the job. And I honestly would have been fine with any price.

We eventually sold the piano (still broken) at a yard sale. We put a sign on it that said,


We eventually changed the sign to “$50” and it sold in about 30 minutes.

I’ve often thought about that piano repairman. When I’ve been presented with an opportunity to take on a job, I wonder about him. I wonder about myself. Are there jobs that I would turn down no matter the price? Are there tasks that I could walk away from regardless of the offer?

I’ve taken some jobs I shouldn’t have. And I’ve passed on some jobs I should have taken. But, it’s the times I walked away from a job that I shouldn’t have taken that I have been most proud of myself.

I assume that piano repairman felt the same way.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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