What your job-related dreams could be telling you
Whether you dream about showing up at the office naked or yelling at the boss, your subconscious could be telling you something. This is how to listen to and interpret the meanings.
After a long day on the job, a good night’s sleep is supposed to be restorative, but how, exactly, can you recharge when your subconscious brings you right back to the workplace? So much for that!
If you’ve ever had dreams (or nightmares) about your job, you’re not alone. A 2018 Monster poll found that the majority (64%) of U.S. respondents dream about having a different job “every second of every day.” That’s compared to the minority (2%) of people who couldn’t even imagine working a different job because they love their current job so much.
“Dreaming about work is definitely common,” says Lauri Loewenberg, professional dream analyst and author of Dream On It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life. The reason why, she says, is because we dream about the things that are on our minds, or situations that are troubling us the most. And since we spend about a third of our day at work, it makes sense that we frequently show up to our job in our dreams, too.
But what do workplace dreams really mean? And can you learn something from them and actually make improvements to your career? Find out what some of the most common job-related dreams might be trying to tell you, and how you can train your brain to think up solutions to workplace challenges and even serve as an idea incubator.
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably had a few of these commonly reported job dreams. Could they be giving you some insight into your waking life?
Running late for a meeting
Running late is a common theme, especially for people who have jobs in which they are frequently up against a deadline, says Loewenberg. In fact, they’re similar to the school dreams you’ve also probably had, the ones where you miss first period chemistry, or sit down for an exam you didn’t prepare for, she says.
If you’re having a lot of those missing-a-meeting dreams, it could be a signal that you’ve got a lot on your plate, either at work or in your personal life.
Ask yourself: Where in my life do I feel pressed for time? Is there something I want to accomplish that my dream is reminding me of, perhaps a personal deadline I set for myself?
Showing up to work naked
No, it has nothing to do with nudist tendencies. “Naked dreams come about when we’re having concern or anxiety about being in a situation in which all eyes are on us,” says Loewenberg. The idea of feeling exposed or concerned about how you appear to others can definitely be work related, especially if you’re in a new job or hitting the interview circuit.
Ask yourself: In what areas of your professional life do you feel scrutinized, judged, or picked apart? “Perhaps you’re training for a new role, evaluation time is coming up, or you have to give a presentation,” says Loewenberg. Whatever the case, do what you can to be better prepared so you can alleviate some of the anxiety.
Boring work dreams
A totally different type of work dream is simply being at work and doing exactly what you normally do, says Sue Kolod, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, and chair of the Committee on Public Information of the American Psychoanalytic Association.
“You might dream that you’re making calls or working on a brief. This is usually sparked when you’re preoccupied by something you’re working on,” she says. “You’re literally working while you’re asleep.”
Ask yourself: Are you taking your work to bed with you? Kolod recommends giving yourself at least a full hour before bedtime to relax. That means no checking your email, taking calls, or doing any work-related reading. “Try to consciously make a point of separating work life and relaxation and sleeping,” she says.
A sex dream about a co-worker
There’s no reason to feel embarrassed or awkward if you have a sex dream about someone you work with. That’s because dreams are symbolic, not literal, assures Loewenberg. “The act of intimacy is often more about a psychological union you need or have had with that person,” she says. It can also be that you’re attracted to an attribute or style that the co-worker possesses, one that could benefit you.
Ask yourself: Have you connected to your dream partner in some way recently, such as working on a project together? Or do you need to connect with that person to advance in your job?
Being back at your first job
Dreams are always connected to what’s going on in your life right now, but there could be something unresolved from your past that is affecting you now, says Loewenberg. If you’re dreaming that you’re back in your first waitress job and can’t fulfill an order, for instance, it can be your subconscious comparing that experience to something going on in your job now that feels similar.
Along those lines, if you have feelings of contentment or happiness when dreaming of an old occupation (or even a completely new one you’ve never had), it could signal that you’re unhappy with the trajectory that your career has recently taken.
Ask yourself: Are you not reaching a certain goal in your current career? Have you had trouble serving the needs of your clients and your boss? Is there something missing from your job today that you once had?
If you’re having frequent nightmares about workplace violence or fighting with people in the office, it’s a sign that your emotions are overwhelming you in some way, says Kolod. It could be a strong indication that something is difficult for you at work, either a relationship with a colleague or a grueling project. Or, it could be something more serious.
“If your work dreams are truly unpleasant, such as a recurring dream about your boss coming after you, take that seriously,” says Kolod. It could be a call to action telling you to deal with a situation that’s weighing on your mind.
Ask yourself: Does the emotion you felt in your nightmare feel familiar to one you’ve felt during a real-life conflict? “Emotion in a dream is very honest,” says Loewenberg. “It’s a huge clue as to what the dream is trying to help you with.”
Work dreams aren’t always about work
It’s worth noting that just because you dream about your office or someone you work with, it doesn’t mean that your job is in peril or that your boss is evil. Sometimes a situation or conversation in a dream is a stand-in for something happening in a different setting.
Likewise, says Kolod, a dream about your father could really be about your boss if they are similar in some way.
Get in tune with your dreams
Loewenberg says the phrase “let me sleep on it” is actually very intuitive, and explains why we often have more clarity about a situation when we wake up in the morning. Here are some exercises to help you remember and understand your dreams:
Write in a journal before bed. “Clear out your psyche to make way for better dreams,” says Loewenberg. This is especially helpful if your dreams have been dark and disturbing as of late.
Take five minutes to reflect before you arise. “When you wake up, remain in the exact position you were sleeping. Once you roll over or get up, it’s like unplugging yourself from your dream,” says Loewenberg. Then, quiet your mind and let your dream come back to you. The more you do this, the more dream recall you’ll get. Write down what you remember, and think about what it could mean.
Ask your subconscious for help. Did you know that the brand name Nike came to one of the company’s employees in a dream? If you’re looking for creative inspiration, you can turn to your dreams, says Loewenberg. “Have a conversation with your subconscious before bed. Odds are you are going to dream about it,” she says.
While you can learn about yourself by examining your dreams, don’t let a particularly weird one freak you out. What’s important to remember is that dreams are not prophecies, says Kolod. “Dreams are not telling you what will happen in the future,” she explains, “but they can tell you how you’re feeling.”
Stop dreaming, start doing
Your dreams could potentially have an impact on your career future, but only if you choose to act on the insights you gleaned from them. If your job is keeping you up at night, then it's probably time to start looking for a new one. But don't lose sleep over it. Start by making sure your resume is ready to go. Need help with that? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression, so you can avoid a resume nightmare.