A Lucky Story about Yes and No

by Christos Tsolkas

Years ago, I worked for a company that was a local affiliate of a very big multinational.

At different stages of my career at that company, I was approached by our biggest competitor. They wanted to recruit me. My personal belief was that I should stay loyal to my current company and resist the temptation to even talk to our competitors. I don’t know if that was “right” or “wrong” but I felt it was the ethical choice. I didn’t want to betray my company.

Then I went through a difficult period, personally and professionally. It was February, I recall. Everything seemed to be going wrong. I’d lost some family members. I was feeling of lot of pressure in my relationships. On the work front, I was also becoming increasingly dissatisfied. It wasn’t a big deal, but I wasn’t exactly clicking with my direct supervisor. I guess we weren’t a good match in terms of working styles.

My phone rang one day, and a headhunter asked me out for coffee. She wanted to tell me about an opportunity. I thought, “Why not?” When we got together, she admitted to me that the company interested in me was our competitor. She hadn’t disclosed that on the phone because I’d already said no twice before.

This time it felt different. Maybe I needed a change? But I felt confused. I didn’t know which part of my brain was saying Yes and which part was saying No and for what reason.

Was it a good offer? Yes.

Was it more money and responsibility? Yes.

Was it a more nimble and entrepreneurial environment? Maybe. I could only guess.

Could I really leave the company I’d grown up in, and where I’d always felt rewarded and appreciated? Ugh!

The Yes / No Matrix

Life is full of Yes and No decisions. Every Yes and every No leads you to another decision node where you must decide again. Another Yes, another No. And so on and so on.

These Yes / No decisions are like the branches in a tree. No one can know where a sequence will lead.

If we could be as “artificially intelligent” as a machine using algorithm based on past decisions and relevant experiences for every decision we make, then maybe we’d increase our level of certainty.

But we can’t have Watson or Einstein on demand. And consequently it is impossible to make “good” decisions at every step. However, these junctures can have a very big influence on our lives.

Here’s the question I’m wondering about now: How much of a role does luck play in those big Yes / No moments?


My “job offer” experience provided an interesting answer.

Branches on the Tree

When it came to my new job prospect, I obviously took a major step forward with my first Yes by visiting the offices of our competitor.

Was this a good decision? It seemed promising.

I liked the atmosphere, the attitude and the leadership. The person who would be my immediate supervisor was a very smart, interesting woman. The Managing Director — I’ll call him Jim — was alo a thoughtful, and very respected executive in the local business community.

My heart said, Yes. Let’s give this a try. So I signed on. BIG, BIG DECISION!

The next day I went to my boss. The rule was that if you ever decided to leave for a competitor you needed to announce it officially and depart IMMEDIATELY. They just gave you time to pack up your personal belongings.

My boss was shocked at my decision. He advised me not to say anything to anyone, and escorted me to our Managing Director’s office. Let’s call him “Andreas.”

Andreas was super surprised, too. He never thought I would ever leave our company for the competition. Over the next two hours, Andreas tried to convince me to stay. He put all kinds of arguments forward about our strength as a company vis a vis any competitor and how much potential I had for growth and opportunity.

In the end, he made three different counter-offers to try to entice me to stay.

3 Hours

None of these offers was money-related. They were all about taking other positions in the company with a more international career trajectory. Andreas said, “Take three hours and think about it.”


Those were the longest three hours of my life.

Both parts of my brain fought ferociously. What should I do? Leave or stay? Yes or No?

I liked the options that Andreas gave me. I didn’t really want to leave my company. I was just feeling vulnerable and low.

But what about the Yes I’d decided the day before? I had told our competitor that I would join them. Could I cancel my agreement? I felt like I was being immature and irresponsible. I worried that I was harming my reputation and personal “brand.”

I was running out of time. Nobody could help me make up my mind. My friends could not understand the context of my anxieties. My colleagues weren’t allowed to know. I sought some legal advice regarding the contract I’d just signed and learned that my agreement was not yet binding.

In the end, I decided Yes — I would stay.

I told Andreas that I would accept his new offer. I would change positions and get a new boss and department.

I hoped that Jim, the Managing Director of our competitor, would understand and not be too angry with me.

But I felt good about my decision. That was how I judged I’d made the right one.

The Twist

Then things got interesting….