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  • Writer's pictureA D Ackerman

What the Vultures Say

Two black vultures on the author's roof
© Alice D Ackerman, 2021. All rights reserved

Many people believe that vultures are an ominous sign. But I seem to have a special relationship with them. They are a symbol of new life. They are actually gentle creatures; they rid the world of the remnants of death. They keep the environment clean. They are always watching. The two in the photo above were watching me from the roof of my home in late October of 2015. Rarely do they venture so close to the living; especially humans! Ever since that day, I have seen at least one vulture almost every day that I leave my home; to take a walk, to ride in the car; and once, even in my dreams.

As you may know, from several of my prior posts, I have a special affinity for birds. I have had two as pets (a Cockatiel and a Blue-Fronted Amazon parrot). I feed the wild birds daily. I put up the first bluebird box in my neighborhood 12 years ago, and now there are bluebirds everywhere. But I didn't always love the vultures. I must admit, they scared me a little when I first started to see them so frequently.

In retrospect, that was a time in my life and career, when I needed the wisdom of the vultures, but I wasn't fully open to their message. I was firmly enmeshed in what seemed like a wonderful career. I was successful, I was well-known in my professional circles, I was well-paid, I had a position of power and influence. However, in retrospect, I was not feeling fulfilled. I was antsy, I was perhaps unhappy, and I was starting to slide into what would turn out to be a significant clinical depression. Instead of soaring on the wind, watching for opportunities (vultures can see as far as 4 miles away-remember when my grandson noted my superpower--I think he was seeing the sight of the vulture), I was on the ground, unable to see but a few feet in front of me. I kept waiting for something, or someone to find me, to bring me peace, to bring me joy. I could not find the best opportunity for me, because I did not allow myself to fly high enough into the air to use my full senses to make the best choice in that moment.

About a year, almost to the day, from the start of my relationship with what I now call "my" vultures, I left my dream job in academic medicine. Still unwilling or unable to spread my wings, I took a part-time job that kept me firmly fastened to the ground. Little by little, I started to realize that I wasn't destined to stay unhappy forever, that I could embrace my internal vulture; that I could be re-born; that I could take my time, have patience and fly on the wind of my passion and purpose.

"My" vultures stayed with me. They encouraged me to fly high, to have patience, to use my resources well, without wasting any of my prior experiences (as a pediatrician, pediatric intensivist, section head, fellowship director, academic chair, organizational leader) and to land on a fresh beginning that would fulfill all my wishes. And that was my fortuitous discovery of coaching as a career.

The Dream

During the first "intensive" of my professional coach training, I had a dream that I was sitting next to a vulture, patting its bald head, while it was calmly vomiting next to my foot. He was careful not to let the vomit get on me, but looked at me with what seemed like love in his eyes as he left me that "present" and then flew back up in the sky. Very high but not out of sight. He was showing me that I was ready to begin again. To use all of my skills and experiences, to let parts of the "old" me disappear, to welcome the "new" me into this life. To create my future, and to welcome others into the new world I was going to build.

And this has been the case. I am so amazed, and grateful, every day that I have found professional coaching, as a way to give back, to use my resources, to gather the sum total of all my prior work, and to be able to help others in this new way. I will always remain the teacher, the mentor, the mother. And now I can show others how to spread their wings, take their time, patiently assess all their options, to make decisions, and take actions that lead to creation of optimal value--for themselves and for the world [more to come about creation of value in a future post].

A couple of weeks ago, I had not been out walking for over 2 days, due to the weather. At one point I looked up from my computer out my front window, and saw 5 vultures taking turns swooping down in front of my home. I went to the front door, opened it and stuck out my head. They seemed to acknowledge me by bobbing their heads a few times, and then one-by-one they flew away. Up, up, up in ever-widening circles, until I could barely see them.

Vultures are extremely protective of their young, yet they are communal, and will share their meals with other vultures, although not generally with other birds or animals. They represent opportunity, purification, new beginnings, patience, wise use of resources, endurance, durability, transformation, intelligence, caution. I am honored to have been "adopted" by the vultures, and I aim to live in concert with what they try to teach me.

I invite you to come fly with me, as your coach, as I hold the space for you to open your wings, soar high, see every opportunity that is available to you, and experience your new beginning.

Please leave me a comment below to let me know what you think of this post. Do you have a special relationship with a wild creature? What symbols have played a role in your life?

Thanks for reading! I value your time and presence. Please come find me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Or send me an email at


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