What Does It Mean if You’re Running Late in a Dream?

6 Min Read | By Liam Porter

Last Modified 14 February 2024   First Added 6 October 2021

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

The dream:

It’s fine. It’s an important interview, but you have plenty of time.

You’ve got this. The research is done, you know the company, you’ve studied possible questions.

You have time. Hours.

You choose your clothes, lay them out, make a cup of coffee and drink it with breakfast to avoid getting any on your outfit. You’re not taking any chances.

You get dressed, de-lint your jacket and you’re good to go.

You pick up your keys and phone, ready to head out…

You’re late. Really late.

Still, it’s only a dream – right?

Variations of the dream:

Variations on this dream differ not only in the thing the dreamer is late for, but also the reasons for being late. As such, there are as many types of dream about being late as there are dreamers to experience it. Whether it’s being late to sit an exam, arriving late to a meeting and having to enter in front of senior colleagues, or to a wedding. Your lateness could be the result of a concerted effort by sinister forces or it could due to a series of incidents fitting of a farce. So, in dreams of running late, time is often, but not always, the issue.

Meaning(s) of the dream:

Being late is not a dream that we can find in the texts of ancient dream analysts – it’s difficult to be late without a well-established method of measuring the passage of a day. While there have been methods of timing an event since pre-history, the accurate measurement of time has really only been possible since the mid-17th Century and the UK only introduced a standard nationwide ‘Railway Time’ in 1840.

It can be no wonder, then, that the White Rabbit of Alice in Wonderland – the incarnation of the dream of being late – appeared in 1865. In fact, one of the most anxiety-inducing elements of some of these dreams can be summed up by a White Rabbit quote:

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

Dreams about being late are, with broad agreement, acknowledged as anxiety dreams – they represent a significant level of worry or stress about something in the waking world.

This does not always mean a specific appointment or anxiety about being late, however – as with all dreams, the dream is emblematic rather than descriptive. As Carl Jung put it:

[These] are motifs that must be considered in the context of the dream itself, not as self-explanatory ciphers.

Dreams about being late can indicate that the dreamer is suffering under a weight of expectation that they feel they’re unable to live up to – whether in employment, from ourselves, or in relationships, the lateness represents an inability to reach the level expected of you.

This does not mean that time can be completely discounted. There are several instances in which time can play a part in inspiring the unconscious to present such dreams. These include life goals you may have set yourself but which you’re worried about reaching, or if you’re unhappy with an aspect of your life but are wary of change, the dream may indicate that you unconsciously believe that time is running out to make a decision.

Meanings of common dreams where you are running late:

If you’ve dreamed about running late for an exam, missing your train, or turning up late for work, there may be a specific reason. Here, we look into common meanings behind dreams of running late:

1. Late for a specific important event (exam, interview, wedding):

Dreams of this nature often indicate a struggle with the pressure that comes from a potentially life changing moment. While they will likely pass with the event itself, the dream is an invitation to put less pressure on yourself and to take time for self-care.

2. Late for travel:

Whether late for a bus, a flight, or any kind of, this travel can indicate that the dreamer is worried about missing an opportunity. Whether that is to move jobs for a more senior position or to start their own business, the dreamer should reflect on their circumstances to acknowledge their concerns and plan a response.

3. Being late for work

This can represent an unhappiness in the work environment. The lateness here represents the anxiety and negative feelings that the dreamer has for their role, which should invite them to consider how they could improve their work life.

Answering the dream:

Anxiety dreams can be difficult for people to act on – sometimes anxiety is generalised and non-specific, but these dreams should be seen as an opportunity to reflect and meditate on the dreamer’s present circumstances. Dreams may not be warnings from an all-powerful psyche, but there is sufficient evidence to believe that they can be indicative of a dreamer’s issues in their waking life.

There are problems with how much control humans have over their time, so it’s understandable that it causes us anxiety – as anything does that disempowers us. It is important, however, to recognise this and to approach our lives in a manner that allows us to use our time in a healthy way. Dreams of running late are an incitement to do exactly this.

Notable appearances in popular culture:

Time, the lack of it, the desire to change events; these are all pervasive aspects of popular culture from comedy to romance to science fiction. Dreams of being late appear in plenty of teen dramas and sitcoms too, alongside plenty of other films and TV series too. As with many of the most common dreams, this one has become an integral part of fiction and poetry. The most obvious example is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Remember the white rabbit holding the pocket watch? It’s arguably one of the most iconic references to running late and especially relevant considering the dreamy nature of said story.

“The whole thing is a dream,” Carroll told the dramatist Tom Taylor, “but that I don’t want revealed till the end.” Beginning with a rabbit that disappears and reappears, like a magic trick that has infiltrated real life, Carroll’s story develops by generating a real dream’s characteristic mixture of vagueness and vividness. Nothing remains the same for long. Even words start to blur into each other. “Did you say ‘pig’ or ‘fig’?” asks the Cheshire Cat, who appears only after the Caterpillar has disappeared. (In real life a caterpillar becomes a butterfly; in dreams a caterpillar becomes a cat.) Usually it is an empty cliche to say that someone writes like a dream, but this is exactly what Carroll tried to do. His story pulled apart the world around him and reassembled it in a crazily jumbled form.

Learn more about dreams in literature:

What’s worse about dreaming about being late? In my opinion, it’s dreaming about being naked! At least when you’re late you’re dressed! Or dreaming about your hair falling out, yikes!

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