It had been such an amazing week – one that was full enough to feel more like a month yet seeming to have lasted for mere moments. It was ten pm on a Saturday night as I sat through the final stages of the boarding process for Delta flight 7 from Dubai to Atlanta. Sad to be leaving my second home, I was impatient for the 16 hour flight to Atlanta to get underway. Suddenly over my right shoulder came a burst of excited chatter and clapping – my thought was a wayward travel companion had unexpectedly made the flight.
As I looked up I was surprised to see a very familiar face walking down the aisle – Jimmy Carter. Seeing a former President of the United States, especially in that situation, was surreal – but there he was. I quickly realized he was walking through the plane, offering his hand to whomever cared to shake it while flashing his brilliant smile and offering warm greetings. A myriad of thoughts raced through my mind and as I waited for Mr. Carter to make it around to my side of the plane I began texting family and friends to inform them of the prestigious company with whom I was travelling.
Then President Carter stood next to me – his smile a literal beacon – his eyes danced with goodness – his handshake firm – his greeting warm and genuine. I had shaken the hand of a U.S. President. One I had not voted for. One whose presidency I had questioned – and still do. However, the man himself is someone I admire. I made up my mind that night that President Jimmy Carter would be one of my Friday’s Fearless Brands.
I wasn’t shocked when Mr. Carter made it public that he had cancer – and that it had spread to his brain. The man is 90 years old after all, and even though he looked terrific and energetic on the plane that night, eventually age catches up with us all. As I listened to his press conference I knew two things.
First, I knew I would write this post in a totally different style than my weekly blogs. For some reason, writing about President Carter seems very personal – perhaps because so much of his life and his actions had significant impact on my life directly or indirectly. Perhaps it’s because I was touched by the man’s humanity, kindness and authenticity on Delta 7.
Secondly, I would break my self-imposed ban on writing about anyone who was currently in the public eye because of misfortune or death. I find that to be opportunistic – certainly in appearance if not in actuality – and I choose not to leverage other’s woes. Why would I change my directive in this instance?
The reason is quite simple actually. I’ve learned a great deal from President Carter about living as a fearless brand – and there will be more to learn from his dying as one.
Born in Plains, GA., the son of a peanut farmer, he subsequently studied at Georgia Tech and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He found his ‘why’ – working to make the world a better place – and determined his ‘how’ to be politics. He rose from the local political scene to become the 39th president of the United States.
Carter was president during some very turbulent times. He was the first president elected to office after Richard Nixon had resigned – our only president to have done so. They were tense times with Russia, the Middle East was in turmoil, gas shortages had plagued the country.
During his presidency he created the Department of Energy and the Department of Education and passed the Superfund Act, allocating funds to address natural disasters. He made Human Rights central to his policies, engineered the Camp David Accords which brought peace to Israel and Egypt and he initiated the second round of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II).
Perhaps he is most remembered for his handling of the Iran Hostage situation, including a failed rescue attempt which left eight U.S. servicemen dead and an embarrassed and angry country. It was Carter who called for a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, another action seen by most to be a negative.
He served only one term as president – considered by many to be one of the worst presidents in history. However, Mr. Carter went on to become one of the world’s great humanitarians – winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. He was awarded this honor “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”
Carter has used his position as an ex-president of the U.S. to further humanitarian efforts. He is active both domestically and internationally in a variety of ways. He has been a strong force in Habitat for Humanity. He has helped to create and support programs which provide food and healthcare on several continents. As a diplomat he has been an advisor, mediator, overseer and ambassador of peace and good-will.
What is there to learn from Mr. Carter by his living as a fearless brand?
Follow your passion – For 90 years now Jimmy Carter has known – and followed – his why. That why is to make the world a better place for humankind. Whether it be through politics, in business or diplomacy, he has never wavered from his why. Know your why. Find ways to fulfill that purpose in all that you do.
Stay true in the face of adversity – It would have been very simple for President Carter to live a low key life out of the spotlight. Given the amount of adversity and animosity he generated, many would have done just that. However, Carter knew his why. He had acted with good intentions and made decisions as president which were in alignment with his beliefs. How do you act – and react – in the face of adversity? As Carter has demonstrated, a good option is to be true to yourself.
Be true to your values – Jimmy Carter has been true to his family, his religion, his beliefs and to living what he deems to be a good and moral life. From dirt poor boy to world renowned humanitarian, he has not lost his focus on who he is nor his why. Having that conviction of self – that unwavering belief that you are on your right path – lets you be fearless.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you think about President Carter.
Am I able to look beyond the obvious and the negative in order to receive the full value of a person? If you dismiss Jimmy Carter based on his presidency, you’ve missed a great deal of value. Is that how you would want others to see and assess you? How would you fare?
What would my behavior be if I knew I was dying? Jimmy Carter announced the diagnosis of his brain cancer. went to have radiation treatment and then went to teach his Sunday School class – as he has for decades. He spoke about his blessings, his wonderful life and that he will continue with his ‘duties’ as best he can. That is powerful. That is a fearless brand.
I write this about Jimmy Carter from a completely apolitical view. His beliefs are his. His actions define his legacy. He has been consistent about who he is for 90 years now. That, to me, says it all. Know yourself. Be yourself. Love yourself.