9 Common Nightmares (and What They Mean About Your Work)

Have you been "sleepworking"? These bad dreams don't have to become your company's reality.
August 08, 2013

Sigmund Freud suggested that dreams and nightmares represent unconscious desires, thoughts and motivations. People typically dream about the places where they spend a lot of their time. For most small-business owners, this definitely includes work. 

This is actually good news, since dreaming is an essential part of health. Ernest Hoffman, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Newton Wellesley Hospital, suggests that the function of a dream is to "weave new material into the memory system in a way that … helps us cope with further trauma or stressful events.”

Kelly Sullivan Walden, author of I Had the Strangest Dream, said that even nightmares can be beneficial to small-business owners. She believes that “our dreams can give us insights regarding employee relationships and financial pitfalls that we might overlook with our logical mind.” According to Walden, “let me sleep on it” may be one of the most strategic things a business owner can say.

While nightmares are rarely predictive of the future, they do actually mean something and can help the dreamer resolve specific issues at work. Though all dream analysts believe that nightmares are actually unique to a particular person, this is how some experts interpreted these common nightmares.

  1. You're late for a business meeting. This common dream has now replaced the childhood dream of being late for a test at school. According to life guidance coach Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos, this nightmare may signal a feeling of being overwhelmed, overworked and unprepared. It can also indicate a past regret of a missed opportunity as a result of time restraints. 

    Remedy for this nightmare: Walden says you should think about how you can be more prepared. “Exaggerate the feeling of being ‘enough’ by imagining that you’ve outgrown your current challenge, and are overly qualified for the changes you face,” O'Keefe-Kanavos says.

  2. All your employees quit at once. Dream job coach Carrie Bancroft says that this nightmare typically means you feel unsupported at work or in life. For business owners, O’Keefe-Kanavos believes it can be a fear of not being liked because you are the “taskmaster.”

    Remedy for this nightmare: Walden suggests connecting with your passion for your business again. “Envision having a team who celebrates you and your business … so your fears of being left will leave you,” she says.

  3. You run out of inventory for a product. This is really a "fear of success" nightmare, O’Keefe-Kanavos says. “It indicates a fear of doing so well that you are sold out,” she says. Michael Lennox, author of Dream Sight: A Dictionary and Guide for Interpreting Any Dream, writes that this particular dream represents a belief your needs won’t be met: "The underlying worry is connected to not having enough resources.”

    Remedy for this nightmare: This dream is preparing you to handle the success you have been striving for, Walden says. Refine your definitions of success and fulfillment.

  4. You go out of business. This is always a dream about failure. It is about the fear of losing your business or something that is particularly important to you. 

    Remedy for this nightmare: Walden sees this dream as a signal for the business owner to take action. “Either improve your business to prevent yourself from losing it or look for [an] alternative route,” she says. She also suggests symbolically “[going] out of your business” by planning a vacation or a day away to get a fresh perspective.

  5. You sell your company. Business owners who have this dream are reflecting a sense of increased self-worth, Lennox says. "The selling of a company shows value, and for small-business owners, it is almost always connected to their self-worth,” he says. Alternately, if you didn't get the price you wanted, it can mean you now feel undervalued. 

    Remedy for this nightmare: Ask yourself, “Where am I handing over my power to other people to determine my value or worth?” Walden advises. She also encourages owners to think about their best assets, like the qualities and characteristics that may have previously been undervalued.

  6. A competitor takes all your business. This can be very complex. Walden believes that the nightmare represents “one aspect of yourself [that] is in competition with another aspect.” For example, a small-business owner might be a leader, a follower, an overachiever or a slacker depending on the situation.

    Remedy for this nightmare: Identify the aspect of yourself that made your business successful, and contemplate the ways in which this might be a tactic to take it to the next level.

  7. Someone steals your idea for a business. Jessica Norell, a Swedish medium, says this nightmare is about being afraid of being disliked or judged for your decisions. It can also be about a belief that you are slow to take action on your ideas.

    Remedy for this nightmare: You need to “act fast in a situation where you see the potential to create something great,” Norell advises. Most small-business owners have to let go of any particular decision they make and be prepared for the next one.

  8. You run out of money for payroll. Novelist Wayne Hicks says this nightmare happens when you doubt your ability to take care of those dependent on you. “The employees in the dream can signify even your family, for it's really about your own fear and insecurity,” he says.

    Remedy for this nightmare: “Dreams of financial lack are tethered to issues of energy, power, survival, security and resourcefulness," Walden says. "Ask yourself, 'What kind of tactics, thoughts or beliefs about my business have I been employing that may no longer be bearing fruit?'”

  9. You keep making lists. In these dreams. you are finishing tasks from the office or rehearsing ways to resolve a conversation that went badly. Paula Chaffee Scardamalia, a dream consultant for People Country magazine, says if it's a list of bad or uncomfortable things, it means you're feeling overwhelmed and there is a burden of demand that seems unending. Walden points out that this is a classic “sleepworking” dream, where “you not only bring work home, but you take it to bed with you.” 

    Remedy for this nightmare: This type of nightmare is actually giving you an advantage by helping you be more prepared for the next day. Walden suggests making a list before going to sleep that relates to all the things you need to keep in mind the next day. “If you awaken in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea that you fear you will forget, instead of rehashing it all night long, write it down in the journal you keep on your nightstand."

Got a nightmare you want interpreted? Download the Dream Moods app to your smartphone.

Read more articles about business owner's fears.

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