Teaching kids how to learn from failure

by / Feb 11, 2023


This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About Failure, Dr. Laymon Hicks. It has been edited for clarity.




What is failure?   


Failure to me is not getting back up. We are all going to go through these times in our lives where life knocks us down, where we don't feel our best. But failure to me is, one not obtaining the goal that you originally set out to attain, but also failure is in not getting back up to go get that goal again.

I know that failure is a necessary part of learning and growing and that makes me less afraid to fail. But I also know that it can feel really awful and embarrassing, and that makes me want to avoid it if I can.


Do you think everybody fails? Is that something we all experience in our own ways?


Absolutely. Absolutely everyone experiences failure. Whether that is you fail the test or you, like, as I describe in the book, you were trying to learn how to ride a bicycle and you fell down. You were learning to take your first few steps and you fell down. 


You didn't reach the goal that you had in your life. So now you feel like a failure. Every single one of us will deal with failure in our lives for the rest of our life. Those who try to stay away from failure are only doing yourself a disservice. 


I realize I just told you a few seconds ago that I often think about avoiding failure in order to avoid those icky feelings. Laymon has a great take on this.   


I think a lot of people try to avoid failing simply because they are afraid of what other people may view them as. You are a failure.


Okay. I don't want to fail because I don't want other people to see me as a failure. I don't want to fail because I don't want to deal with the rejection. I don't want to fail because I don't want that to deal with the hurt, the pain that it may cause me. 


So most people avoid failure not to do with all the other things that they think will happen.  


Just because you fell does not mean you are a failure. And I think a lot of people don't understand that every single person who is successful today, who we may look up to, presidents, vice presidents, of corporations, organizations, musical artists, painters, every single person, your own mom and dad, they have all failed.


What if they try to avoid failure for the rest of their life? No one would be where they are today. And so it's so important that you stop looking at failure as a thing that you need to avoid and embrace it and go full throttle.  




I learned a phrase a few years ago from a friend of mine that has stuck so tightly in my brain, that I had to share it with Laymon. 


The phrase is “failing forward”. It means using failure to learn and to propel yourself forward.


It didn’t surprise me that Laymon also knows this phrase well. 


It's so important that you fail forward. What I tell a lot of kids today is that even in your failure, you are nine times out of 10, more successful than the person who did not try, because in that failure, you learn some lessons that you can now use. Later in life. And once again, when you apply for whatever it is that you were trying to do.And so it's important to fail forward. 


Famous motivational speaker Les Brown says this. He says, “when you fail, make sure you land on your back because if you can look up, then you can get up and if you can get up, then you can still fight for your dreams.” 


And in that, what he is saying is that you, you are going to fail, but you have to get back up and if you're able to get back up, then you keep fighting. You keep persisting because that's what life dictates for us. That's what, that's what it calls for us to do. 


So many young people today are afraid. Again, just so afraid of what other people are going to think. And because of that fear, it stops them from persisting. And what I, what I've truly believed  in my wildest thoughts is that failure is only the bridge to get to success. The failure that we have is that bridge, you have to fail in order to become a success. So why, why not get back up and try it? 






I gotta admit. Hearing “you have to fail in order to become a success, so why not get back up and try it?” ...that’s a phrase that I may never tire of hearing.


That's part of the process. That is the ingredients in the cake. It's all about perspective. And I always tell people all the time, like, think about WD 40. We know WD 40 simply as water displacement 40. It’s this blue and yellow can we spread whenever we hear things squeaking.


Well, how did WD 40 get its name? The people who created WD 40 failed 39 times. And on the 40th try, they came up with the right concoction which we now know as WD 40. 


Are you willing to fail 39 times in order to create something that will be used over and over again to solve problems in this world?


Are you willing to do it? Most people are not. The question, though, is why not? Why are you not willing to get up to keep going? Because every single time you are learning something new. 


Oh man. You know, I realized failing is.. a part of the process. It is a part of the process. But even in that, it doesn't make me feel good, you know? Cause you put your all in something you've been trying. You've been investing time and effort and money or whatever the case may be, a relationship capital, all of this stuff.


It does not make me feel good, but I know on the other side [of failure]  is that I've learned something. And I am because of it. When I had that fear of failure, I felt pain. I felt rejection. I felt like I wasn't good enough. Like I couldn't anymore that I can sustain what I was trying to build. There was no good feeling with failure, but now that I've learned that failure is a part of the process. That I will have to fail in order to be someone. That failure is the investment for success. 


I realized, “You know what? Get back up. Keep moving. Keep going.” You know, I always tell people, I tell my student audiences, that my great grandmother said to me, baby, when you fall down, get back up. And so that was one of the things that she would say to me all the time.


And, that's what I try to get young people today to realize is that when you fall down, you have to get back up. It hurts. Some people won't look at you the same, but again, your failure is simply an awful opportunity to go out there and continue to make a mark on this world. Someone will benefit from your failure.



Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week we have Dr. Laymon Hicks, the author of A Kids Book About Failure.