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Fail Log #5 - Jay Martin on the Keys to Letting Go of Failure

Leading up to Fail Safe, we're asking speakers and panelists to spill the beans about their lives, work, and experiences with failure. Read on and learn a little bit about who you'll be connecting with this October.


Next up, we have Jay Martin, whose expertise in government policy design has impacted policy throughout her home country of Australia and around the Asia Pacific region. Earlier this year, she moved her skills to Edmonton, where she's set to lead a capacity-building breakout at Fail Safe.


Tell us a little bit about yourself.


My whole career has been in social and human services, for the first 20 as a policy adviser to government, and the last five as a consultant for KPMG – in other words, ‘problem solver for hire’. I’ve never lost my passion for the work, nor my wonder at all the people I get to meet who are doing great things.


I was lucky enough to be offered a job in Canada, and arrived in Edmonton from Perth about six months ago. I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains at first sight and now I’m not sure I can ever leave.


When you hear the word FAILURE, what's the first thing that pops into your head?


TRIED. You may not succeed if you try. But you definitely won’t succeed if you don’t.


What's your earliest memory of failing at something?


When I was in kindergarten I did a finger painting. Just the usual messy abstract stuff. My teacher at the time said, ‘Maybe next time could you try and draw something specific?’


I interpreted that as a failure. Of course it wasn’t my failure, it was hers, because she missed that opportunity to make a small child feel good and instead gave her a lasting memory of feeling bad. But that is how the world is – it is not kind, it does not set out to make you feel good, it does not equate trying with success. No wonder we all have so much trouble letting ourselves take risks. We have a lifetime of experience to work against.


What do you hope attendees will go away with when they attend Fail Safe 2018?


When we’re all in a room of like-minded people, it’s easy to forget how difficult it is to feel strong enough to fail – and not beat yourself up about it. The world can be an unkind and unforgiving place and all your good intentions can go out the window when you’re faced with people who are only too keen to use your failure as an opportunity to make themselves feel good. I don’t know if I have the answer for how to deal with it. Let’s all talk about how to deal with that world when we leave. Whatever advice we come up with for each other – maybe that’s what we can take away from FailSafe 2018.


What's the biggest lesson you've learned from a failure you've experiences? Tell us about the high and low.

I wrote a book once. I thought it was a great book! Unfortunately no one else did. Well, none of the 30 or so publishers or agents I approached, anyway. They say writing is a business that builds up your tolerance to failure, as rejections outnumber acceptances thousands to one. It was certainly my experience. You have to be content with what you’ve done, on your own terms.


Then I wrote another book – and it got published! It would have been easy to give up after my first experience, but there were a couple of things that kept me going.

  1. I had enjoyed the process of writing, and decided that even if I was never published it was a way of spending time that I enjoyed and was valuable to me.

  2. I had learned so much from writing the first book, and I wanted to apply that knowledge – and to keep learning from the process.

  3. I knew that if I wrote another book, it might not get published. But if I didn’t, it definitely wouldn’t! So there was more risk in not writing it than writing it.

  4. I knew that even if I didn’t get published, I would feel good about having achieved something. It’s about internal validation, not external validation. I have to say, the external validation is a nice touch – but it’s the icing, not the cake.

What's the key to letting go and learning from failure?


Enough confidence in your abilities – and the person you are – that you can really step back and understand that just failing at doing something is just that – failing at doing something. It’s not failing at doing everything, and it’s not failing at being you.


This is the work of a lifetime. So don’t beat yourself up over it if you’re not there yet. Most people aren’t, and never get there. That’s OK too.


Most funny/embarrassing moment?


I lived in Poland for a while and by the end spoke Polish quite well, but you can still get yourself into all kinds of trouble in a foreign language. One time I tried to buy a specific product to clean up some mess my cat had made. Apparently I used a very inappropriate word to describe what had happened. It was embarrassing, but it also made me realize how inconsiderate and unkind people can be to other people who are – often – just trying their best.


What's your go-to pick up song?

Affirmation, Savage Garden.

“I believe the struggle for financial freedom is unfair / I believe the only ones who disagree are millionaires.”

I didn’t intentionally pick something Australian but perhaps it is an Australian sentiment.



What's the best piece of advice you've been given?


I was offered a job not long out of university, which I thought really played to my strengths, so I was planning on taking it. My boss at the time pulled me aside and told me not to – for exactly that reason. I’d seen it as playing to my strengths, he saw it as playing it too safe – he told me I needed to broaden out, challenge myself, learn more. I took his advice – and he was right. And I’ve given that advice to lots of people since, particularly those starting out. No one’s yet told me I’ve been wrong.


What's the best piece of advice you've given to someone else?

Don’t go to Karratha (which is the Australian equivalent to Fort Mac).


I had a junior staff member who had taken quite a pay cut from a corporate law job to take the job she was doing, and while she enjoyed it, seeing her peers really take off in terms of salary progression was starting to bite. She was offered a really well paid job in Karratha, a tiny, hot town in the north of Western Australia, in the mining industry. I advised her against it – there are times when it’s OK to do things for the money, but I knew it wasn’t her passion and I could see so many other options for her. She ended up moving to Melbourne and taking a job working in family violence – which she loves, is in line with her passion, and in a city that is giving her so many options personally and professionally.


Has the fear of failure ever held you back?

I learned early on that failure was a bad thing. It made me very risk averse. I went out of my way not to challenge myself – because I learned that people rewarded you for succeeding, not trying. It took me a long time to train myself out of that mindset, but life got a lot more interesting, exciting and engaging once I did.



Connect with Jay and many other innovative thinkers this October at Fail Safe. Register now.

8330 82 Avenue

Edmonton, AB

Tel: 780-428-5487 

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