I had applied for the nuclear submarine program, and Admiral Rickover was interviewing me for the job. It was the first time I met Admiral Rickover, and we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss. Very carefully, I chose those about which I knew most at the time, current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty. In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen.

He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled. I was saturated with cold sweat.

Finally, he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself. He said, “How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?” Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a plebe, I had done very well, and I swelled my chest with pride and answered, “Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!”

I sat back to wait for the congratulations, which never came. Instead, the question: “Did you do your best?” I started to say, “Yes, sir,” but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth. I was just human. I finally gulped and said, “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.”

He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget or to answer. He said, “Why not?”

I sat there for a while, shaken, and then slowly left the room.

Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) American politician, US President (1977-1981), Nobel laureate [James Earl Carter, Jr.]
Why Not The Best? (1975)
Added on 3-Feb-15 | Last updated 3-Feb-15
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