I loved watching MacGyver when I was a kid. He was always finding himself trapped in some kind of difficult situation, with little or no chance of getting out. Despite everyone around him giving up hope, the ever resourceful MacGyver would scrounge around the underground cave or sealed bomb shelter, gathering random items. He’d grab someone’s shoelaces, confiscate someone else’s candy wrapper and then pluck a leaf from the ground, and using these things, he’d create an explosive device to make a hole just big enough for everyone to escape.

I was enthralled watching MacGyver week after week find his way out of the most impossible situations. His tenacity, grit and resourcefulness made an impression on me. Here’s why:

There’s a Yiddish expression I heard growing up: “Ah yid getzech an aitzah” – a Jew gives himself a suggestion or idea. No matter how difficult things seem, the Jew figures it out and finds a way. Every time I complained that I couldn’t do something, I was told there had to be a way to do it, and to emphasize the point, this Yiddish axiom was invoked.

Don’t give up. A Jew finds a way.

I wasn’t always as successful as I’d hoped, but I dutifully did my best to always try to find a way.

Becoming a teacher gave me a newfound appreciation for MacGyver. I kept seeing students who would try, make a mistake, and promptly give up. They were so devastated by their error that they refused to continue or try again.

“Don’t you know?” I would shout in my head, “Ah yid getzech an aitzah!” No matter how I tried to soothe their feelings and help them move on, I couldn’t seem to reach them. The shame of making a mistake seemed to be an insurmountable barrier that prevented them from continuing. Then, one semester, while teaching a college class on Positive Psychology, I encountered Carol Dweck’s Mindset Theory.

Dr. Dweck set out to discover what made some people successful, while others with the same advantages, backgrounds, and demographics were unsuccessful. She discovered that a person’s success is tied to their perspective of themselves as learners. Those with a fixed mindset see themselves as having a fixed amount of intelligence and ability. Whatever they are good at and can do is…. what they are good at and can do. They believe that there is no growth possibility, no way to change or improve their abilities or knowledge. So if they’re bad at math, they believe that’s just how it is and how it always will be, and nothing can change that.

By contrast, someone with a growth mindset believes that intelligence is not static. They believe that people can learn to do things that are difficult for them, or achieve things that don’t come naturally to them. These individuals are undeterred by mistakes because they understand that learning is a process and mistakes are a part of that process. They are more concerned with the transformational journey they’re taking than on the immediate results.

Once students internalize this way of thinking, they embrace learning without the fears of messing up that often stand in the way. I’ve seen it work successfully with my first graders, as well as high school students.

Dr. Dweck’s Mindset Theory and MacGyver’s can-do attitude resonate with the Yiddish saying “Ah yid getzech an aitzah” – a Jew finds a way. From the very beginning, starting with Abraham, the Jewish people have been trying to find a way to do the seemingly impossible – to embody and share the values and wisdom that bring light and meaning to the world. Faced with relentless persecution, exile and scattering to the four corners of the earth that would have vanquished most nations, the Jewish people never gave up. Despite all odds, they persevered with God’s help in their mission to find a way to bring the light of Torah to the world, laying the moral foundations of the western world.

MacGyver always arrived at a neat, happy ending with the best possible results. In the real world, there are no guarantees that our specific efforts will succeed. But that does not mean we shouldn’t try; it means we need to try even harder. After all, we’ve got the Almighty on our side, the Ultimate MacGyver. Ah yid getzech an aitzah – a Jew finds a way.