National Geographic chief urges fearlessness
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Jean Case, the first chairwoman of the National Geographic Society, says there’s “never been a better time to innovate than today” in the midst of partisan sniping in Washington and a partial government shutdown.

“The good news for me is that while Capitol Hill and the White House is a bit dysfunctional right now and not being able to find solutions going forward,” says Case, “it’s usually during these dark, sometimes-urgent times that citizens rise up and they find ways forward to do new things and to improve their communities, and sometimes the nation, too.”

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The philanthropist is urging people to tackle fright head-on in her just-released first book, “Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose.”

“Fearlessness is not the lack of fear,” the CEO and co-founder of The Case Foundation tells ITK, “but the courage and the strength to push past it.”

“I do think the story of America is the story of fearless individuals who had great ideas and took them forward,” Case says. “And we need more of that today perhaps than ever before.”

Case, 59, stresses in the book the importance for governments to take on “new, bold endeavors.” She cites former President Kennedy’s moonshot and the development of the internet as two examples.

“The sad thing to me a little bit is that today I think that governments are less willing to try new things and take those risks because too often, if they don’t work out, they’re called waste, fraud and abuse,” says Case. But, she says, “You really can’t innovate and do great things without taking some risks.”

Chances are “you are going to have some failures along the way and that’s part of the process of perfecting an idea,” Case says.

Asked how ordinary Americans can apply the “Be Fearless” advice when they may be struggling just to make ends meet, Case notes her own upbringing in Normal, Ill., as the youngest of four children of a single mom. She says financial aid helped her through college and she faced “many sweated out nights to pay the rent, pay the phone bill and everything else in my life.”

“This is not a message of, ‘Oh yeah just go quit your job and change the world.’ Some people can do that, most can’t,” says Case.

“No matter where you are in life’s journey, there’s one thing you can do this week to get yourself a little bit closer to the idea that you might have.”

— Updated 7:10 p.m.