About to embark on the most important trip of his life, Jimmy Carter stood in front of his home here today and said he believes he has a chance to achieve greatness as the nation's 39th President.

"I think I'm ready now to be President," Carter said as he and his family left their home to begin the trip to Washington where he will be sworn in Thursday.

Asked if he really thinks he could be a great President, Carter responded with a striking statement of his hopes and self-confidence, declaring that the nation is headed toward "a greater time than we've ever seen before."

"I hope I have a chance to exemplify accurately what the American people are and what they would like to be," he said. "If I can stay close to the people of this country and not disappoint them, I think I have a chance to be a great President.

"It still remains to be seen," Carter continued. "I'm determined to do the best I can and I think I have it within me, to the extent I can represent the American people well, [the ability] to achieve greatness. I hope that achievement doesn't come through unanticipated crisis or the prospect of war or some catastrophe that I might help to resolve, but through steady but exciting progress to the future."

The President-elect concluded:

"I feel eager to prove myself, with a sense of humility about my own limitations. But I believe that we're headed toward a greater time than we've ever seen before."

On his last day at home before his inauguration, Carter rose at 6 a.m., helped his wife, Rosalynn, cook breakfast and saw his daughter, Army, off to a final few hours at the plains Elementary School. He also visited the Plains branch of the Citizens Bank where he removed his passport from a safety deposit box.

Throughout the final, pre-inaugural hours here, Carter displayed little emotion over leaving his boyhood home. He smiled and waved to crowds that greeted him both here and at the Albany, Ga., airport, where his charter flight took off for Washington, and he promised to return to Plains as often as he can.

Outside his home, Carter told reporters, "I feel a sense of satisfaction with this last year.

"It's been a very exhilarating thing and it's good to learn about our country," he said. "I think I have an excellent Cabinet and I will have a lot of good help."

Saying the people of the nation and the world "wish me well" and "want to see me succeed as President," Carter added:

Along with several aides and a full press contingent, the President-elect was accompanied on the trip to Washington by his wife and daughter, his mother, Lillian Carter, his mother-in-law, Allie Smith, his sister, Gloria Spann, and Jan Williams, Amy Carter's fourth-grade teacher.

While the next few days will be largely ceremonial for Carter, his press secretary, Jody Powell, confirmed the existence of an ambitious suggested agenda of activities and decisions for his first three months in office.

The 29-page proposed agenda was prepared by the staff of Vice President-elect Walter F. Mondale. While it was written without consultation with Carter's staff, Powell called it a list of "well-thought-out suggestions" that have been "well received" by Carter and his aides.

It contained suggestions that Carter tour the country to seek support for his programs, meet with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, address a joint session of Congress in February and speak to the United Nations the week of March 27.

Other suggestions included proposing measures to ease unemployment among Vietnam veterans at the same time Carter issues his pardon to Vietnam-ear draft evaders, submitting election reform legislation to Congress and accelerating federal housing programs. The agenda also calls for Carter to meet with minority groups to discuss strengthening anti-discrimination regulations and with church, volunteer and youth organizations to set the stage for proposals to revitalize the Peace Corps and ACTION.

The agenda calls for the cross-country tour - which Powell said Carter is likely to make - to last about two weeks and include meetings with governors and mayors.