My grandfather used to say that life itself is the best college education. It is, isn’t it? What did I learn today?

I took the list of schoolbooks that my son would need for the following year and made my way to the bookstore. I bought all the books on the list (or at least I thought that I did) and smiled to myself in satisfaction. One more thing that I could check off my to-do list! When I got home, my son was happy to see all his new books, but I had made one mistake. One of the books that I bought was the wrong edition, and we needed to exchange it for the correct one.I had made one mistake

“Mommy, I’ll take it back to the store and exchange it,” my son offered.

With a sigh of relief for not having to trek back out in the sweltering sun, I handed my oldest son the receipt and an extra 20-shekel bill (about $5) in case the new edition cost more.

Fifteen minutes later, my son called me from the bookstore. “Mommy, they don’t have the new edition, and will only give me a store credit for the old one. What should I do?”

I told him to return the old one, take the credit and come home; we would look someplace else for it on a different day.

Another 15 minutes later, my son walked in the door. He handed me the receipt, and then started searching all his pockets. “Mommy, I lost the 20-shekel bill.”

“Are you sure? Check your pockets again.”

“No, it’s not here, I lost it. I must have dropped it.”

“Maybe you can go back and look for it?”

He went and came back frustrated.

“I didn’t find it. I told you. I lost it. It’s better not to give me any money!”

I was surprised by his reaction, and to be quite honest, I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t say anything—I needed time to think. On the one hand, 20 shekels is a lot of money—it can buy a meal for someone. On the other hand, 20 shekels lost, thank G‑d, is not going to make a difference in our lives, and any amount of money is certainly not worth crushing my child’s self-esteem. On the one hand, I want my child to learn responsibility. On the other hand, I don’t want him to feel bad about losing something or making a mistake that is human and normal. I also don’t want my son to not try something for fear of taking responsibility. It’s such a challenging job to be a mother!

Later in the evening I sat down with my son, and this is what I told him:

“Twenty shekels is a lot of money to lose. But you know, Avraham Nissim, if you learn a lesson from the experience, then it’s totally worth 20 shekels. I’ve lost money before or things that were valuable, and I learned from each experience how to be more careful. For example, if you came home, realized you lost the money, and said to me, for example, ‘Wow, Mommy, I lost the money. Next time, I am going to be more careful and put the money in my pocket or a wallet instead of carrying it my hand,’ then the loss is actually a gain.”

It’s not that I was upset by my son’s losing the money. He didn’t mean to lose it, and these things happen. I was worried by his response because I know that he is responsible, mature and capable. His response showed me that he didn’t see those qualities in himself. For him, it was better to not even try to be more careful. How many times do I myself fail at something and, instead of reevaluating the situation and seeing how I can make it work better, give up before I try?

Life’s lessons. Yes, this is what I learned today. In life, when we make a mistake, when we lose something, when we do something wrong—even without any intention of causing ourselves or others harm—it’s an opportunity for growth. But if we give up on ourselves before we even try again, we lose that opportunity. If we decide we can’t change or do things differently the next time, we miss out.

I think about all this as Yom Kippur draws near. Yom Kippur is a beautiful, holy day. It’s a time for introspection and self-growth, but what happens to some of us on Yom Kippur? We get scared! We get discouraged! We make all these promises to ourselves during the preceding month of Elul and during the first nine days of the new year about how we want to be better people and work on ourselves. On the eve of this holy day, we ask for forgiveness from those we hurt. And then comes Yom Kippur itself, and we turn to G‑d, asking for forgiveness.

In the prayer service on this awesome day, we repeatedly recite a confession called vidui. Why should I even bother?The vidui is hard. You verbalize all the areas where you did the wrong thing, all the times you caused yourself or others harm. And you repeat this list many times over. Guess what happens? There’s a part of you that, as you recite the vidui, says, “I can’t change. I’m going to repeat the same mistakes. Why should I even bother?” These thoughts, they produce the most tragic loss of all. The loss of faith in the power of change, the power of growth, the power of learning from life’s lessons.

But today I learned a lesson worth more than a college education. Today I learned that after I recognize what I did wrong, after I verbally confess the action, after I regret the action, then my determination to not repeat the action—the fourth and final step in the process of teshuvah (repentance)—has to first come from a belief in myself that, with the help of G‑d, I really won’t repeat it. Today I learned that if we don’t believe in our ability to grow, we won’t.