Roughly 1 year ago I told my previous employer that I would take him to lunch in a year. Now I'm really struggling with the question of whether or not to keep that promise, and how to keep my cool for the entire duration if I do keep it.
- Worked my ass off for a previous employer for more than 10 yrs.
- Was paid well below market rate the entire time, with a soft promise of being rewarded "when the company succeeds" (but of course I was too timid early in my career and my boss was too unavailable in later years for me to negotiate any actual equity in the company).
- Was loyal to a fault.
- Boss effectively did not allow me to take vacation, and anytime I did manage to pull myself out of the office to go on a trip, I was forced to work anyway. If a deadline was missed, my boss would angrily ask me why I didn't work twice as much overtime in the weeks leading up to the trip, and why I didn't cancel the trip if the deadline was in jeopardy. (And I never even got a chance to tell him all the times I did cancel trips and personal commitments, or the damage it caused to my relationships.)
- After I told my boss I was contemplating another employment offer, he took me out to lunch. It started off ok, then--per his typical pattern--he got around to insulting my intelligence. After he finally settled down and admitted he should have found a way to compensate me better, he repeated his soft promise of wanting to make things right "when the company succeeds" and told me he would like me to take him out to lunch in a year. Like an idiot, I said yes.
- Like an idiot, I worked my ass off in my last 2 weeks, putting in 20+ hrs/wk of overtime.
- Like an idiot, I did not realize that my employer was going to screw me out of my unused vacation.
- At some point during my last 2 weeks, we had another conversation in which he destroyed any remaining thread of credibility he still had with me.
Fast-forward 1 year:
Just thinking about the work conditions at my old job infuriates me. The lost opportunities infuriate me. It infuriates me even more to think that I allowed myself to be abused in that way for so many years.
I cannot think about any of the discussions with my old boss in my last 3+ years of working there without becoming angry at him for abusing my loyalty and trust, not to mention the numerous times he insulted my intelligence, saying that I was "not thinking logically" or saying that every decision I had made was a bad one, including my decision to leave. And obviously it pisses me off that they did not work with me to arrive at some sort of compromise regarding my unused vacation, which I earned 10 times over by being one of the incredibly tiny minority who actually spent most of his time at work working.
So my dilemma is this:
On the one hand, I don't want to break my word and burn any bridges professionally. At this point I really don't expect my old boss to make good on his soft promise, especially given that I'm 100% certain he does not have any legally binding documentation stating his intentions in the event that something happens to him or he cedes control of the company. However, it's entirely possible that I may bump into one of his connections at some other point in my career. I don't expect any help from him, but I also don't want him to say something negative about me if it comes up. I would like to think he would not hold a grudge, but I feel like our relationship went so far downhill that I honestly don't know what to expect from him.
On the other hand, I don't know how I would spend an entire lunch with him, let alone 2 minutes of the requisite chit-chat littered with uncomfortably long silences, without either venting at him or having an aneurysm.
I've thought about emailing him or sending a message indirectly through one of my former colleagues stating that I'm just not comfortable speaking with him because of some of the things he said to me in our last several interactions, but that I would buy him lunch to make good on my promise if he insists.
My wife thinks I'm foolish to even consider making good on my promise. She doesn't see any possible benefit to following through, and I'm inclined to agree with her, though I cannot discount the possibility that I'm overlooking something.
What, if anything, should I do to resolve this situation?
One of the most difficult parts of working there for the past several years was that I shared many of my concerns with others and nobody else could relate to any of these issues aside from their having to put in extra hours to meet a looming deadline. I'm aware of the persecution complex and really don't want to think I was the only person being abused, but in all my discussions with colleagues at various levels throughout the company, I could find no evidence that anyone else was remotely undercompensated, repeatedly set up for failure, blocked from opportunities for professional development, and generally treated as poorly as I was. I had the feeling I was pigeonholed with little or no support so that I was still generating enough revenue to cover more than my salary and benefits, and my boss was content to forget about me until I inevitably missed an impossible deadline.
I admit I have nobody to blame but myself for remaining in a bad work environment, and in my 20/20 hindsight I can see I should have left after the first year. The fact is, at the time I was young and inexperienced, and with the dotcom bomb and the great recession I was just thankful to have a job.
Though I have pretty much painted him as a conniving and merciless tyrant above, in his mind he thought he was doing a decent job and that he was saving me from a worse fate. He had many sides to him that seemed to be in conflict: the savior who saw it as his duty to help broken, screwed up individuals find their way; the cocky intellectual who presumed his sense of logic to be superior to others' even when he had zero information; the clueless novice entrepreneur; the human being who shared some very personal stories at various points.
For those who have asked: when he asked me to buy him lunch in a year, he explained that he hoped I would be doing well and that we could have a happier conversation. I think his motive for this was one or both of the following reasons: so he could clear his conscience of any obligation to me (his soft promises), or so he could legitimately try to help me if I managed to totally screw up my life without his guidance.