There’s a great scene in Spielberg’s latest film, the Fabelman’s (2022), where young Sammy is granted an audience with the legendary filmmaker, John Ford (played by David Lynch). It goes like this:
“John Ford: Now, remember this. When the horizon’s at the bottom, it’s interesting. When the horizon’s at the top, it’s interesting. When the horizon’s in the middle, it’s boring as s***! Now, good luck to you… and get the f*** out of my office.
Sammy Fabelman: [Sammy walks out the room; later, he pokes back in through the doorway.] Thank you.”
I love that scene because it demonstrates not only Ford’s experience and expertise, but also his prickly haughtiness. Essentially, Ford is saying, “I’m the authority here. Bow down, take a number, and don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”
That’s the same delicious pomposity you feel when you walk into Santa Maria Novella, perhaps Italy’s oldest perfume shop. Billed as “the oldest pharmacy in the world,” SM Novella doesn’t actually sell medicine. What it does sell is perfume, room fragrances, accessories, and men’s grooming products. Particularly impressive are the bars of soap ventilated for 30 days on wooden racks before they are chiseled and molded by hand for sale.
Walking into SM Novella is like entering a cathedral. The roof is vaulted, the floor a checkerboard mosaic of stone tiles. Light filters in from stained-glass rosettes. Glass cabinets display all variety of bottles and vials, no doubt filled with potions and tinctures from Professor Snapes’ laboratory. It’s a holy space, a place where you feel like you’re always under-dressed.
Now, I’d like to report that the staff treated with me appropriate disdain, like an Italian Soup Nazi, but in fact, they were perfectly nice. Examining their wares, I ended up buying a small bottle of after-shave lotion, which I nursed for years as if it were holy water. Nevertheless, I’ll never forget the subtle vibe that SM Novella emanated.
“We’re good. Oh, yes. We’re very, very good. Now get the f*** out of my office.”
What’s the right balance between arrogance and humility? Does it pay to under-play your virtues? What if you spent a day trying on the attitude, “I’m the best! You’d be lucky to get my services for anything less than top dollar?” How might that shift your life?