Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Every profession has its own anxiety dream

empty seats.jpgThe great ancient dream interpreter, Artemidorus, insisted that the meaning of a dream symbol is connected to the life situation, and especially the occupation, of the dreamer. Losing a tooth or having sex in a certain position means something different depending on whether you are rich or poor, a scholar or a laborer, a seaman or a farmer.

I’ve noticed that every profession seems to have a typical anxiety dream. If you’re pharmacist, you dream that you give the customer poison instead of medicine. If you are a minister, you dream you forgot the text of the sermon and can’t improvise. If you are a farmer or gardener, you dream of drought or early frost. If you are an entertainer, you dream that you’re in front of empty seats, or seats that empty as the audience walks out in the middle of your act.
A musician tells me her standard anxiety dream is that she forgets her instrument or leaves her music at home – and sometimes picks up an unlikely object (a plastic bag, a sock, a pan) in front of an audience in order to have something to play. A family therapist reports that her recurring anxiety dream is that she can’t manage all the clutter, which often takes the form of a mess of fast food wrappers and boxes. A school teacher’s most frequent anxiety dream is that when she gets in front of the class she finds she has not lesson plan. A radio producer dreams that his equipment malfunctions, or the switchboard blows up as he’s trying to handle calls for a live show. A wilderness guide dreams a rope snaps as he’s trying to get a group up a rock face.
Let me be quick to note that such profession-specific dream jitters are not only “anxiety dreams”. Pore over the details of a dream of this type, and you may find that, while it reflects a common motif, it may also contain specific clues to a coming situation that can help you handle that better.
In itself, the dream may be a rehearsal. You screwed up or froze in your dream, but now you’ve got that behind you, perhaps you can move forward more decisively and successfully in regular life. Maybe you’ll be able to re-vision those empty seats as space for the huge audience that is going to join you for a coming event that will be very popular.
So: what do you recognize in your night life as the most common anxiety dream related to your work? Let’s discuss these themes in the Comments thread.
Empty seats: a common motif in the anxiety dreams of entertainers and public speakers – yet maybe also a space of possibility, a space ready to be filled.
  • Mike B

    I used to write computer code. During that time I noticed whatever I was anxious about would be expressed in code-like expressions within the dream. Often daily events, that have nothing to do with computer code, would be expressed in the dream in a code-like manner.
    For several years now, I write the technical documentation from which others do the coding and my anxiety dreams have shifted with the change. They now focus to the process of procuring others’ approvals and validation of the information and or the need for revisions not previously anticipated. I pay attention to who shows up in these dreams and how they are relating to the dream focus. This has helped me to anticipate many situations, often to my advantage.

  • Marie-H.

    I like how you propose the “opportunity” version of the interpretation.
    I have noticed that I might have the “same” dream, but with different “emotions/perceptions” in it, and it changes its content. If I deal with the negative reaction to the dream, it transforms into soemething more positive.

  • Justin Patrick Moore

    I’ve often dreamt of arriving at the radio station totally unprepared, with no idea of what to play, or with nothing at all, and all of a sudden it’s down to me to talk for two hours straight about who knows what. Usually, I would wake from these dreams, and when I had the time, make sure I was more than prepared.
    Mike B… nice to hear of someone actually “dreaming in code” as the old Hacker saying goes.

  • Savannah

    Hmmm… most every speech therapist I know has a recurring anxiety dream of being completely unequipped to offer anything helpful. It’s more of a waking dream, actually :-). I would probably guess most if not all of my work related anxiety dreams have contained clues about specific situations. Once on my birthday I dreamt that someone in a navy dress suit was rummaging through my desk as if looking for something and using my phone without asking which seemed odd. In fact I am not sure she was all that aware of my presence. There were a dozen roses on my desk, which I thought were simply a birthday insert. I couldn’t understand what this stranger was doing there, was I doing something wrong? My office was a mess, what would she think? Reality check… my office does tend to pile with papers. A few months later I received an innocent call from a colleague at another hospital running a survey about my services and details of my caseload. I gave her the information she asked for and thought nothing more of it until the survey report passed my desk, which proposed radical changes to my work that would have taken me away from my current clients and none of which had been discussed with me in the initial phone call or since then. As I wrote up a detailed reply explaining why the suggested change would not serve my clients I remembered the dream and I remembered that despite my anxiety about the woman she simply seemed to be looking for information amid the chaos. I submitted a matter of fact reply backed up with precise statistics and the issue has been altogether dropped since. Oh yes, the last name of the manager I forwarded my response to is “Rose.”

  • Claire Perkins

    As a perennial student who cannot get enough of learning, you might call going to school my vocation if not my profession. It’s no surprise that my recurring anxiety dream goes something like this:
    I suddenly realize that the semester’s over and I haven’t been to class once! Graduation is right around the corner and I will have to stay back and repeat this whole semester. Not to mention I’ve totally ruined my GPA! This dream theme always fills me with total terror and I have to think really hard when I wake up to remember that I already graduated – I’m all done – I have my degree – my GPA is intact. Leaves me in a cold sweat!
    The dream usually comes when I’m “not doing my homework” in some way in my waking life. The specific details of the dream can often help me discover where I need to be “showing up” more.
    (the link will take you to an artistic expression of this dream)

  • Robert Moss

    Mike – Really fascinating how your previous work specialism provided the codes for dream information on other fronts. I wonder how many others experience something like that. I notice that those of us who spend a great deal of time on computers filling in boxed (like this :-) sometime dream that info on other fronts is being filled in – or needs to be filled in – within similar formats.
    Thanks for confirming that, when worked with in the right way, an “anxiety” dream can often be seen and used as a helpful rehearsal for a coming situation.

  • Robert Moss

    Marie-H – I’m always skeptical when people tell me they dream the “same” dream over and over. We do dream the same THEMES, and find ourselves in recurring situations. But when we pause and play closer attention, that “same” dream usually proves to have different features each time – and of course different emotions within and around the dream would make an important shift as well.

  • Robert Moss

    Justin – “Dead air” is almost certainly the #scary dream for radio presenters, in sleep and in waking life.

  • Robert Moss

    Savannah – seems you were able to harvest a bouquet of clues from the dream on how to handle a situation it previewed.

  • Robert Moss

    Claire – We are all lifelong students, whether we recognize it or not, and it’s my impression that a dream in which we are in danger of flunking a class is the #1 generic anxiety dream for literate Westerners. You mention a link to “an artistic expression of this dream” but I don’t see that; please feel welcome to post it.

  • Nina

    This is a lovely embarrassing topic. As a teacher my typical nightmare professional dream is that I am in the class teeming with students and I am not able to draw their attention or attention of some of them. As they get distracted and start talking to each other I increase my voice and get angry. Needless to say without any effect. The funny thing about this lack of attention is that recently I dreamed about teaching in the class with my current students arranged in a small circle. Between them sat my former student whose attitude in waking reality could be expressed in one phrase: she couldn´t care less (about learning). In this dream she was a bit clumsy and dropped some of her papers on the floor. They landed at my feet so I began to pick them up. In one moment I threw a glance at her notes and there were several compositions with topics I set to my groups. I was very surprised and asked her with disbelief: You were writing homework? And she cheerfully replied: Oh yes, I have always found it interesting. Then I woke up, with a strange feeling that things are not always what they appear to be, even the most obvious.
    Last note to the photo. It reminds me of not a dream, but a real situation from Handel´s or the Great Bear´s life. I suppose this incident occurred in England, where he introduced one of his many masterpieces. Nobody attended the performance because of intrigues of his influential enemies. When he saw the empty concert hall, before he lifted his baton, he just exclaimed: “My music will sound the better so!” I don´t know if this can give a professional speaker or entertainer (probably only reticent:-) any comfort but it´s one way and proves Handel´s heroic unfailing spirit.
    Thank you a lot for a great post.

  • Louisa

    When I just started working with superconducting magnets, I had a recurring nightmare of a magnet quench. During a quench the magnet suddenly warms up and transitions from the superconducting to normal, resistive state. It is often a spectacular event accompanied by loud hissing of escaping helium and clouds of vapor filling up the room. I used to wake up in cold sweat after dreaming of the magnet control panel ominously flashing QUENCH in huge, fiery red letters. Maybe this is why in waking reality I have never quenched a magnet.
    On another occasion, I surprised my lab mates when I showed up in the lab unusually early, because that morning I had dreamed that my low-temperature setup blew up. It did. Next day.

  • Donna K

    Fairly straightforward, and one that could apply to any field. I dreamed that I was being shot at by a low-flying plane – that bore the ‘brand’ of the company for which I worked! Have since left them. whew!

  • Robert Moss

    Donna – wow, that was one heck of an advisory. As you say, it could apply to any field. I wonder whether others will report similar anxiety/revelatory dreams involving employers past or present. A work-related element from my own dream life in a previous period that you bring to mind was of being blocked, repeatedly, by a huge container truck.

  • Robert Moss

    Louisa – What an interesting, and apparently practical, dream advisory. The subsequent incident with the lab blow-up reminds us that we never want to dismiss a dream that causes an anxiety as “only” an anxiety dream because it could be a preview or advance simulation. I can’t help thinking, also, that if these had been my dreams, I might have been alerted to the possibility that – without keeping a steady grasp on my own reactions and emotions – I might have been the one to produce and equivalent of the magnet quench (which sounds like the mother of all hissy fits :-)

  • Robert Moss

    Nina – what an interesting variant on an anxiety dream theme many teachers would recognize it. I would apply it to current and future situations where I may have to deal with students whose attitudes might appear to be similar to those of the former “couldn’t-care-less” student – but may actually be engaged and studying hard in their own time, in their own ways. Dreams often show us aspects of people we haven’t recognized in regular life and if this is my dream I have a sense of optimism about what I may now be able to recognize and work with in some of my students.
    As for Handel, his make-the-best of it attitude is admirable, and probably beyond most mere mortals.

  • Claire Perkins

    Hi Robert, thanks for your reply to my flunking out dream. The link I referred to was the URL at the top of my post. But I will repeat it here:

  • Robert Moss

    Claire – Interesting site. Finding retail possibilities in scary or anxiety-causing dreams is a new spin for me. Do you suppose they are selling many of those items?

  • Azima

    I’ve had two anxiety dreams in the last couple of weeks, both involving anxiety about preparations.
    The first was the night before I was the guest on an Internet radio show, speaking on dreamwork. In the dream, I was having trouble calling in, couldn’t find the number, my phone didn’t work right, etc. I took care before the call to make sure all was in order and I was ready to go.
    The second was the night before a momentous birthday party. In the dream, I’m in the restaurant (venue for the party) getting some things ready and suddenly realize it’s ten minutes to starting time, and I’m not dressed for the party yet. A second loop, but this time I still have time to go home and change.
    I found it interesting that in both cases, the anxiety was about preparations, not about the events themselves, which came easily to me and proved to be very enjoyable.

  • Claire Perkins

    Ha ha! I’ve been playing with art on that site for so long now, the retail aspect has left my consciousness. Polyvore is at it’s core a site for fashion design and is free because it is supported by fashion advertising. But it has been co-opted by a strong subculture of digital artistry – there are thousands of digital images available (and one can import more as needed) with which to create digital collage. I sometimes create dream art there, and more often more artistic pieces. It is also a social networking site with groups and contests where I have created a group specifically for dream art. Just another foray into creating a cyber dreaming community.

  • Robert Moss

    Claire – Sounds like a dream: a tribe of hungry artists traveling under the cloak of haute couture…I guess we’ll want to discuss dream wardrobes here in the near future…

  • Robert Moss

    Azima – The first dream sounds like a straightforward and helpful rehearsal. In the way of synchronicity, a good friend and I were discussing mutual (possibly interactive) dreams from last night in which each of us was running out of time to get dressed for a big event. She was helped to get her outfit together in the last minutes; I ran out of time to go change, but it was fine to go just as I was. Neither of us got to our events in the dreams, but both of us were left with high confidence that when waking life catches up with the dreams, all will be well.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment donnatheiguana

    I used to wait tables and had recurring dreams (as is common in the profession) of trying to wait on everybody in Shea Stadium. I would wake feeling rattled and out of breath! Those dreams, I came to feel, helped me acknowledge the stress we waiters sometimes faced in dinner rushes, trying to get to everyone and keep them happy! Later, in waking life, I worked as a chef. My last cooking job was nearly ten years ago. I currently am unemployed, having most recently worked as a nonprofit org administrator, and am looking at this “gap” as an opportunity to make a big change and find something that really makes me happy. Recently, I have had a number of dreams where I am working in a completely new location as a chef! And I am always very happy in the dreams, no matter what chaos comes my way! Needless to say, I am exploring the possibility of finding chef work in a new part of the country — and just heard from what could be my “dream job”!

    • Robert Moss

      Donna – I’ve heard similar anxiety dreams from others who have waited tables. Those happy dreams of working as a chef in a new place sound like they are worth tracking. I wouldn’t rule out that they could be rehearsals for a specific job. At the very least, if they were my dreams, I would feel that my dreams are helping me to “cook up” some intersting new options.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Homer

    Questions for you and your readers. During my 42 years as a journalist I had job anxiety dreams infrequently, maybe once a year. (Unable to produce a single sentence while editor clamors for copy is the typical newsperson’s nightmare, a variation of students’ “empty blue book” dreams) But since I retired eight months ago I have had such dreams almost every night. What’s going on? Is this some kind of delayed reaction? Is it new anxiety that merely takes the form of something familiar?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Adrian

    So true! I’m an RN working on a cardiac progressive care unit and I usually either dream that the telemetry monitoring is down (can’t see my patients’ heart rhythms on the screens) or that halfway through the shift, I realize the patient in room whatever was assigned to me.

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