Not all of us always remember our dreams but, when we do, they can be quite telling. When we're under a lot of stress with work, questioning career decisions, feeling especially appreciative or envious of a co-worker or boss, or having other consuming feelings regarding our work, it's likely that we'll revisit those feelings in our sleeping states.
Put literally, dreams are the stories — a collection of clips, images, feelings and memories — our brains share with us while we’re sleeping in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage. But they're not just random stories. In fact, many sleep analysis professionals argue that our dreams are our brain's subconscious ways of answering questions we have or responding to real-life situations that we may or may not realize are deeply affecting us.
"What we know is that, according to the recent scientific explanation for dreaming (the activation-synthesis model, for those nerds out there), that dreams are nothing more than random neural firings — however, when your brain is randomly firing, it attempts to create a story using your memories, stressors, concerns and even random events throughout the day," says Dr. Julie Gurner, a doctor of clinical psychology. "Having a repetitive work dream would likely indicate that work is frequently on your mind, whether consciously or not. Depending on the type of dream, for example, whether it is stressful involving deadlines, or pranks involving fun involving coworkers, would likely give you more information about what kind of impact your work is having on you."
We reached out to professional sleep analyzers to share some comment work-related dreams and what they mean. Not all of these nine dreams are necessarily set in a workplace or involve people or situations from work, but they may very well have to do with work nonetheless.
1. Having Sex with a Co-Worker or Boss
"In my research and experience, I have found that the most common work-related dream is having sex with the boss or a co-worker," says Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, a professional dream analyst and author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams Change Your Life. "Now, if you have an attraction to said co-worker or boss, then a cigar is simply a cigar. But more often than not, this sort of dream can make it very difficult to look them in the eye the next day. So it's important to remember that your dreams are symbolic and not to be taken literally.
"That being said, dreaming of having sex with your boss or a co-worker is not about a physical union you want but more about a psychological union you need. The most common cause of a sex dream is when we have made a connection (or need to make a connection) with that person in real life. These dreams can happen after a meaningful conversation or after you joined together on a project at work, for example. These dreams can also happen when you find yourself attracted — not to the person — but rather to a particular quality they have. With a co-worker, you may admire their ability to close a deal or their ability to always be organized. In this case, the sex dream is not about a desire to unite with them physically but rather to unite that particular quality they have into your own self. With a boss, it could simply be the authoritativeness and decision-making abilities that you desire for yourself — your need to be more of a boss in your own personal life, so to speak.
These sort of dreams, once you understand them, can be very beneficial to your role at work, because they show you whom you need to connect with and/or what quality you need to improve
2. Being Unprepared for a Presentation
"A very common work dream is one in which the dreamer finds herself unprepared for a big presentation," says Sansan Fibri, a dream expert and founder and CEO of the only AI-powered dream interpretation app, DreaMe. "In the dream, you’re at work, (or sometimes even back in school). It’s the 'Big Day' — an exam or big presentation you knew about for quite some time is taking place, now, today. Suddenly, it seems you 'forgot' to study or prepare. You feel you should know the material, but you’re drawing blanks. How can this be? You knew about this day; you know the material. It’s almost incomprehensible that you, of all people, would have neglected to prepare for this big moment.
"This dream normally shows up for the high-achieving woman who puts a lot of emphasis on delivery and pressure on herself to excel in these exact scenarios. Since our dreams are closely tied to our survival instincts, they may show up as 'practicing worst-case scenarios.' Since most of us today do not live in constant fear for our lives, this dream is more about the fear of failure at our workplace, thus diminishing our accomplishments and putting our livelihood at risk.
"The good news? This is just afeeling. This stems from a feeling of anxiety, likely related to an upcoming event that you are actually prepared for. Remember: Having high expectations of yourself is healthy; running yourself ragged with anxiety in hopes that everything turns out perfectly is not. Remind yourself how well you’ve prepared for this task, as you always do, and remember that you cannot control the outcome or expect it to be 'perfect.' Trust the work you’ve done. You got this!"
3. Being Given a Lot of Money
"'I’m walking down the street and everywhere I go, people are giving me money, stuffing it in my purse, until it’s literally overflowing — I don’t know why this is happening, all I know is I’m laughing and crying, in awe, gratitude and amazement,'" a Chicago-based woman named Keisha told Kelly Sullivan Walden, dream expert, certified hypnotherapist, best-selling author and inspirational speaker. "It’s time for you to cash in on your true inheritance and access the wealth that is your birthright. Money dreams symbolize energy, power, survival, security and resourcefulness. When you dream of a financial windfall it’s your subconscious mind blasting you out of the consciousness of merely surviving, into full-blown thriving.
"Most money dreams reflect our real-life fears, struggles, attitudes and beliefs about the mighty green, where people are either chasing it, losing it, spending it, finding it, fighting for it, hiding it or reveling in it. In all of these instances, if we look closely, these dreams are giving us hints and clues as to how to discover our own vein of gold. The gift [Keisha's dream gave her], was the sense of having so much money, that [she] could experience the freedom from worrying about it. In other words, every time we’re lucky enough to have a wish-fulfillment dream like this, in addition to interpreting it, my suggestion is that you meditate and marinate in how great it made you feel. Treat this dream like an energetic map that can lead you from where you are to where you would like to be. Just as people who are wealthy attract more wealth and happy people attract more circumstances to themselves that make them happy, allow this heightened state to make you magnetic to 'real-life' fulfillment."
4. Witnessing a Good Situation Go Bad
"I had a woman who was dreaming that she was with a brand new puppy that she bought, and the puppy was sitting on the table — she was so happy that she bought this puppy but, all of a sudden, the puppy started pooing everywhere, all over the table and all over her," says Layne Dalfen, a dream analyst. "The dream was about the fact that she got this brand new job she was so excited she got and, within 10 days of working there, she found out that her boss was an abusive guy. He was 'pooing' all over her. So she was so happy she got the job and that's why she was using the puppy as a metaphor.
"Not only is a dream a conversation that you are having with yourself about a very specific current issue of yours, but it's also trying to solve the problem, and the solution appears in the dream. For this person, the solution was to ask the dreamer what would you do in waking life if that really happened? What would you do if you really bought a puppy and he pooed all over you in the waking life? She said she would take him off the table and clean up the mess. So she took the job off the table; she literally quit the job."
5. Facing a Pile-Up of Work
"I had this guy who says he was climbing up a ladder, and the higher he went, there was paper everywhere — no matter how high he went, it was still filling up with papers," says Dalfen. "At the top of the ladder was a guy that was his roommate in college he hasn't seen in 15 years. When I asked him to tell me a few things about the guy, he said he was a selfish and take-care-of-me kind of guy. The reason the dreamer had that dream is because he had a pile of papers on his desk, and his friends were asking him to go to the movies. He didn't know how to say no. He's the accommodator; he's always saying yes. He didn't want go to a movie, and he couldn't because he had too much work. So the ladder is such an academic metaphor for getting ahead in life and business, and the piled up papers symbolized the work he had on his desk. Who does he have at top but this selfish, take-care-of-self kind of guy? Because that's the kind of person that the dreamer needed to access in his current situation. Once you know that the selfish friend is the solution to the issue, you know you need to call your friends to say that you can't go to the movies."
6. Cheating with Clients
"I had a client who dreamed his wife of 25 years was cheating on him — and the dream was about a client he had for 25 years," Dalfen says. "He felt so betrayed to discover that the client took a bunch of his business everywhere else, so he gave himself the feeling of betrayal. The purpose of using his wife was because dreams are not literal, but they are always encouraging us in some direction that's the appropriate response to what's happening in the waking life. He was not expressing to the client how it was impacting him to hear how some of the business was taken somewhere else. But if it was a cheating wife, he would not stay silent. The unconscious chooses; it's never random but very sophisticated. It creates a scenario under which he would, of course, speak up and encouraged him to call the client and talk about it."
"I had a radio DJ who was dreaming that he was pulling on a string in his throat; he was bringing it out of his mouth, coming out of the back of his throat making him gag," Dalfen says. "Even though he was gagging and making himself uncomfortable, he kept pulling on the string. [In reality], he had switched his slot on the radio to the middle of the night. It meant that he was missing the morning sessions where they planned what was going on for the day. It made him start to feel disconnected from the people at the station because he was missing those morning meetings, and he wasn't speaking up about it. The pulling of the string was his unconscious way of encouraging himself to speak up."
8. Having Belongings, Like a Purse, Stolen
"'I have a recurring dream that my wallet and purse is stolen while traveling or while I’m out and about in my life — I've had this dream countless times over the years and it always leaves me feeling bereft and stressed out,'" a Chicago-based woman named Andrea told Walden. "It can be one of the most stressful dreams ever when you dream of losing a purse or having someone take it from you! However, please take heart in knowing that this dream may be a strange blessing in disguise. 'How,' you ask? Consider that your dreams are always on your side, and this dream may be giving you a nudge to help you become even more grounded during your earthly adventures. In fact, you may be receiving the call, via this dream, to create a more sacred relationship with money (since that’s what lives in your purse), as well as with your identity around success.
"Just because you are a kind and loving person does not mean that you are anyone’s fool (i.e. no one is going to 'steal' that promotion away from you, if you can help it!) Prompted by this dream, imagine yourself in your grandest, most opulent expression, truly holding the purse strings of your life. As all fear drops away like loose change into a piggy bank, feel the floodgates of abundance open wide to reveal a direct route to your vein of gold. Meaning: purse-onal power.
"In waking life, your wallet or purse contains your money, identification, credit cards, meaningful photographs and other sentimental items. For this reason your purse or wallet is seen as an extension of yourself and your power, as well as your identity. It is a nightmare (in real life and in dreams) when a purse or wallet is lost or stolen — this dream may be a message to get a grip on your finances. If you dream of finding your purse or wallet, this may represent that you are coming into a renewed sense of self-appreciation, self-worth and the ability to value the essential aspects of your life that you may have previously taken for granted. Mantra I am rich and abundant, responsible and grateful for becoming my highest, most soulful, prosperous expression."
9. Getting Stuck Driving in Reverse
"'My dream starts with me driving down the street, then, suddenly, it gets stuck in reverse,'" a San Francisco-based woman named Linda told Walden. "'I step on the breaks but the car won’t stop. Luckily, I miss cars, people and other objects. Finally, I figure out how to stop the car on the side of the road. I wake up with my heart racing feeling so nervous about driving (in dreams and waking life).'
"Dreams of a car typically symbolizes drive, ambition and the desire to go places," Walden explains. "Dreaming of being stuck in reverse might mean that you are venting your fear of being stuck, out of control, and unable to go where you want to go. Driving in reverse can also be a message from your dreaming mind that you may have bought into belief or thought that is keeping you from moving forward in life (or is taking you backward). The good news is: This dream wouldn’t be revealing itself so vividly if it wasn’t time for this pattern to change... You may be, in fact, preparing to truly get on track with turbo speed. To get back on track, I recommend that you do some journaling on the question: 'Where in my life am I stuck in reverse? Why?' 'What can I do to get back in gear?'"
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.