If you've ever had dreams -- or even nightmares -- about your job, you're not alone.
In a 2003 survey of 1,000 adults conducted by British bank NatWest, 80 percent of women and 60 percent of men said they dream about work. Moreover, 65 percent of women and 43 percent of men reported waking up in a cold sweat, worried about their jobs.
Another 2003 survey of more than 1,000 adults by British education company learndirect revealed that 57 percent of the respondents said they suffer nightmares about their jobs. Fully 25 percent experience those nightmares once a week or more.
The learndirect study asked participants what their work-related dreams are about. Here are the responses (in order of frequency):
- Arguing with the boss.
- Being late for an important meeting.
- Lusting after a colleague.
- Having to make an unexpected presentation.
- Going to work naked.
- Losing all their files in a fatal computer crash.
- Getting fired.
- Killing the boss.
Meaningless or Meaningful?
That we sometimes dream about our jobs isn't in question. But whether we should take our work-related dreams seriously is a matter of continuing debate.
Some experts argue that dreams of any kind are essentially meaningless. But others say our dreams -- about work or anything else -- amount to much more.
"Dreams can highlight things that are worrying in our lives and can help us…sort out [not only] our emotional problems, but also the problems we face in daily life and work," says dream expert Craig Hamilton-Parker, author of The Hidden Meaning of Dreams. For example, dreaming about having to give an impromptu presentation is symbolic of the real feeling that you're unprepared for something, Hamilton-Parker says.
Our dreams can also highlight potential solutions to problems and remind us of the unique strengths we have to draw upon, according to Layne Dalfen, founder of The Dream Interpretation Center in Montreal and author of Dreams Do Come True: Decoding Your Dreams to Discover Your Full Potential.
"For example, when you have a nightmare, it is your subconscious letting you know that you are more preoccupied with a given issue than your conscious mind is letting you believe," Dalfen writes in her book. "The nightmare may be scary, but it also shows you how to deal with your problem. Often the solution comes in the form of a picture or situation you have created in the dream. You can see things more clearly in your sleep."
Decoding Your Dreams
To understand and benefit from your work-related dreams, you need to learn how to read between the lines, says dream expert Gillian Holloway, author of Dreaming Insights: A 5-Step Plan for Discovering the Meaning in Your Dream.
For example, suppose that you have the relatively common dream about showing up for work or an important meeting naked. "This dream usually dramatizes a feeling of vulnerability and exposure in waking life," Holloway notes on her Life Treks Web site. "It is particularly common to people who have accepted a promotion, gone off to a new school or who are coming into public view for some reason." The dream suggests the dreamer may be focusing deeply on some area of his life where he's taken on a new role he hasn't gotten used to yet.
Similarly, you might have the common dream about being unprepared for some job-related task or event. "This anxiety dream is most common to people who never allow themselves to be unprepared," Holloway stresses. "The people who have it are generally successful, competent professionals who excel at their work and prepare as much as humanly possible."
Does the dream predict your impending public humiliation? Not at all, Holloway reassures -- it's simply your way of processing anxiety in the face of the potentially unpredictable.
You may or may not buy into the idea that your work-related dreams symbolize something deeper. That's just fine. For every person who sees a larger message in his dreams, there is someone else who sees nothing but "random neuron firings," as one university psychologist puts it. If nothing else, though, your work-related dreams are fascinating to ponder -- and perhaps even learn from if you're open to trying.
Articles in This Feature: