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Take a Page Out of This Nine-Year-Old’s Playbook and Tap Into Your Courage

If you ever thought you were too young to make a bucket list, think again.

Madelyn Quinn already has three items on her list at the ripe old age of nine. Madelyn was born with a hole in her heart and immediately underwent three surgeries. When she miraculously reached her eighteen-month birthday, Madelyn joined a rare club of fellow tiny patients too young to know they were fighting for their lives and waiting for a donor. Her parents gratefully learned she was a perfect match for a heart in waiting.

It wasn’t long before Madelyn’s color came back, she regained her appetite, and she started to enjoy life like most two-year-olds. It was then that her dad, a former PGA golf pro, gave her a small plastic driver and golf balls and started showing her videos of Tiger Woods as a toddler. Madelyn’s love and talent for the game grew by the day, so her dad bought tickets to a tournament where she’d get to see Woods play.

Call it an understanding of her mortality beyond her years or simply a passion for what she loved to do; Madelyn was inspired to make a bucket list and put it on a poster. And unlike most of us, she already had a head start. The poster read:

"My Bucket List: [checked off] Get Heart Transplant; Meet Tiger Woods; Play Augusta"

When Woods’s caddy caught sight of Madelyn holding her bucket list in the crowd of onlookers, it was clear he shared what he saw with Woods — a very small fan whose poster dwarfed her but not her courage. The pro produced a Sharpie pen, signed his glove, and walked over to Madelyn. While handing her the glove, Woods checked off the second item on Madelyn’s poster with his pen. The exchange went viral, and someone came forward with an offer of tickets for Madelyn to see the Masters in Augusta.

What is it about the human spirit that moves us? Especially when the spirit comes in the form of a little girl who beat the odds and decided that wasn’t enough. That she is manifesting her dream — not by putting it on a list for no one else to see but by putting it on a poster where millions of people might see it.

When we witness courage, are we immediately transported to our own fears of what it would take to do the same? What happens to us as we get older? Have we witnessed those who have stepped into the arena and lost? Do we pack our courage away for some rainy day that never happens or somewhere safe so no one will know whether we reached our goals?

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Madelyn’s story is a powerful reminder that great things can happen when we’re willing to share what we want most in life. A little girl made a poster about things she dared to hope for, and that courage — no, vulnerability — spoke to people.

“Vulnerability is our most accurate way to measure courage,” says bestselling author Brené Brown. In fact, as researchers, “we can measure how brave you are by how vulnerable you’re willing to be.” Brown’s first book, Daring Greatly, revitalized the popularity of a speech, fondly remembered as “The Man in the Arena,” given by President Theodore Roosevelt. Here’s a famous excerpt from his speech:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

In Brown’s The Call to Courage, she points out how crucial vulnerability is to our personal and professional lives. Vulnerability is the “birthplace” of innovation, creativity, and change, she says. “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. It becomes scary to let ourselves feel it.” In the workplace, without vulnerability, there’s no creativity. “No tolerance for failure, no innovation. It’s that simple,” Brown adds. As we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month in May, I’m reminded of how important it is to model vulnerability and to make it safe for others to do the same.

In the spirit of Roosevelt’s words, if Madelyn fails at playing in Augusta someday, at least she failed while daring greatly. When Madelyn was asked what she thought of her first Masters in Augusta, she replied, “It was so green and beautiful… I wanted to go back and play all eighteen holes!” She didn’t mind getting wet in the rain to watch the golfers compete because her mind was already stepping into the arena. She said, “I could be as good as them or even better one day.”


  1. Greg Scott

    Great story Walt. It is the desire and drive that every successful person feels, but it is a 9-year-old. She will do great things in the future if she can keep that determination!

    Reply to Greg Scott

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