Marge Woodfin, Pilot staff writer

While going through old articles looking for ideas for a column, I came across some information I collected back in 2007 about Hans Christian Anderson.

His name is, of course, recognizable by most of us who have attended schools in the U.S., where we were introduced to his famous tales.

I began to read about him and, although his name was so recognizable and I was quite familiar with many of his stories, I realized I actually knew nothing about his life.

As I read about Andersen's difficult life I thought of the many people today who blame all of their problems in life on an unhappy childhood.

According to the encyclopedia, this teller of charming tales had a miserable early childhood. He was born in the slums of Odense on the island of Fyn to a poor Danish shoemaker father and a superstitious and almost illiterate mother. His grandfather was insane and his grandmother, said to be a pathological liar, spoiled him.

After suffering from crude jokes made by companions during his apprenticeship at various trades, he took off at 14 for Copenhagen "to become famous."

He managed to secure a part time job as a stage performer with no speaking parts, but survived only because of help from some writers and composers he met in the theater. According to the encyclopedia account, Andersen lost his theater job when he lost his voice, although it seems to me a bit difficult to understand why that would make a difference to an actor without lines. But, that's what the encyclopedia said.

However, Jonas Collin, a theater director, raised money to send Andersen to school, and at 17, he entered grammar school, where he again became the butt of the unkind humor of the headmaster.

His writing was found completely unsuitable for the theater and he was on the brink of despair when Collin arranged private tuition for him to enter Copenhagen University.

In spite of all of his early hardships and disappointments, Andersen was able to overcome and succeed.

Many of his 168 fairy tales have become classics all over the world, translated into 80 different languages, and he spent his later life among the rich and famous.

What if Andersen had claimed he had no chance for success because of his unfortunate upbringing, and remained in Odense wringing his hands and bemoaning his fate as a poor shoemaker?

Incidentally, there are also creative and successful shoemakers in this world, but if Andersen had determined he had no future but to follow in his father's footsteps he would, no doubt, have been a "poor" shoemaker. Instead, he became a world famous "teller of tales."

Are any of you out there bemoaning lost opportunities of the past? What's your excuse? What is it that you have always wanted to do but felt powerless to attempt?

I challenge you to give up the excuses, be they bad genetics, poor environment, age (too young, too old), lack of education, health, or wealth, and take the first step toward your dream.

You may not have the great success you really desire, but you'll have a heck of a lot more exciting and satisfying life than if you just sit around wringing your hands and accepting your failure and instead dare to step out and "go for the gold."