Dealing With Disappointment: Jimmy Carter

February 23, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

At some point in every person’s life there is a terrible disappointment or a failure that you remember for the rest of your life. It can be hard to bounce back. The hardship that you have suffered can rob you of your courage and it can steal your conviction at a time when you need it most. Your setback can, of course, help you learn what to do differently next time, but ironically, it can also be a powerful tool to make you more effective at realizing your goals and dreams.

When Jimmy Carter lost the reelection, he faced bitter disappointment. During an interview with me for “The Leaders of the New Century” CD series Carter explained, “When I left the White House I was in despair. I had not anticipated being defeated after the first term. I had put everything I owned – a very successful business in a blind trust – I found that during the four years I was in the White House I had accumulated a debt of a million dollars; I had no way to pay it off. I was going to move back to Plains, the little village of five hundred. There were no job opportunities there.”

I asked him how he dealt with the pain of disappointment and what really drives him to decide to make a difference.

Carter replied, “We decided to found the Carter Center and to use whatever talents or ability or influence that my wife and I had – having been President, First Family – to get to know the rest of the world and to address the problems of some of the people who had really not been on my top priority – or even my medium priority – while I was President. When you are President, you have to deal with crises. You deal with the Soviet Union and with China and with the Mid-East. But since then we have dealt with the twenty-four thousand villages in the world that had guinea worm, and we have been in every village.”

That is significant because this type of disease is not in other parts of the world where they may have the income to pay for development and delivery of it. Carter chose to address it precisely for that reason.

He said he thinks everybody needs to be prepared for failures or disappointments or frustrated dreams, or even embarrassments. Not only that, we should be prepared to accommodate them, if possible. He asked, “And if you do have an extreme change in your life that is unpleasant, what are the principles that don’t change, on which you can build a new life – an expanded life, a better life, a more adventurous life?”

Carter went on to explain that in his case, his stable family, the community from which he came, and primarily his religious faith were the unchanging principles in his life. “I happen to be a Christian. I teach in my little church every Sunday. The preeminent facet is compassion, forgiveness, justice, humility, service. None of us can measure up to that perfection. But I would say in the most dismal times of life, those appropriate measurements of success can be a strong enough inspiration to overcome despair and disappointment and failure.”

Building on foundational principles will help you double your value when you experience setbacks. “Each of us has to struggle in our own individual way to achieve a measurement of success. But I would say that every created human being can be successful, whether you live in abject poverty, you can espouse the measurements of success in the eyes of God. And I would like to name them – justice, peace, humility, service, forgiveness, compassion, love. You don’t have to be rich, powerful, famous, healthy, intelligent to demonstrate those characteristics of life.” Use disappointment to discover new ways of reaching out to others.

Mark C. Thompson is a senior executive coach as well as a bestselling author and keynote speaker on business growth, change, sales, leadership & teamwork, success built to last. As one of the most successful senior business communication executives and angel investors of our time, Thompson is Charles Schwab’s former Chief Customer Experience Officer, Chief Communications Officer and Executive Producer of Mark Thompson is a widely recognized expert in Built to Last (coauthored by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras). While at Stanford, Thompson and Porras joined forces to launch a global study to create the international bestseller: Success Built to Last. His next book is titled “Double Your Value.” Visit Mark C. Thompson’s YouTube channel at to watch his interviews with leaders in business. Visit his website at for more content and resources about leadership, success, and doubling your value.

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