My year of rejection

​For new graduates (and anyone with lofty goals), a rejection challenge can be a way to overcome the fear of hearing “no.” Ewan D.S. Wolff, PhD, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM), shares how they navigated their year of rejection.​

By Ewan Wolff, PhD, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM)

I signed a contract for my first job that stipulated I had to be ACVIM–boarded in two years, or be fired in January 2020. In 2016, I had passed my specialty exam, but I still needed to be first author–published in an accepted journal to become an ACVIM medicine diplomate.  

At the beginning of my residency, I knew from graduate school experience that taking manuscripts from the moment of their hatching on through the review process was risky at best.  

I decided that I couldn’t put my faith in just one projectso I worked on four (I called this a “horse race”). From the first day I started my job, I had spent every day after work writing late into the night (sometimes until 2:00 or 3:00 am). By November 2018, I was still not boarded, and I’d had 10 journal submissions turned down.  

Discovering “rejection therapy” 

I don’t think doom scrolling had been popularized at this time yet, but that’s what I was doing one day when I came across a couple of articles on “rejection therapy.” The general concept is to minimize the fear of rejection by having the experience of hearing “no” as much as possible.  

The articles I read suggested a time frame of a few monthsbut I didn’t think I’d have a paper accepted that soonso I decided on a year.  

Luckily, I had a couple of failures to go on already from the year before, so I was ahead of the “rejection challenge” game. I’m not good at New Year’s resolutions, but I had confidence that this was something I could excel at. 

What follows is a highlight reel of my personal rejection challenge—although it is missing some stories that were too hard to tell (and some that aren’t finished yet), I hope that my experience can inspire someone out there, whether you’re a new graduate or aspiring specialist like I was—or you’re just looking for some motivation in working toward a big dream, whatever it may be. 

My year of rejection: A timeline  

  • January 2019: I submitted an article to JAAHA and was rejected.  
  • I wrote to the University of Florida Natural History Museum two days later and asked to become a paleontology research associate. They told me they’d discuss it in April and get back to me. (They never did.) 
  • February 3, I received some major revisions from JVIM.  
  • I wrote to the Museum of the Rockies and asked to be a paleontology research associate there as well.  
  • On February 22, I wrote to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s office and asked if I could help with animal health briefings. They got back to me and asked if I was a constituent, which I wasn’tand they said they’d follow up later.  
  • March 1, I wrote to a friend at University of New Mexico and asked if I could become affiliated. (To my surprise I was not rejected, and ultimately became a research assistant professor, which I continue to be today, but the quest for publication continued).  
  • I also wrote to Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani and Rep. Stephanie Murphy. 
  • I submitted a poem to Oxford American which was rejected, along with several sent to the New Orleans Review recently. 
  • I wrote to a French paleontologist about a book chapter, and to Ray Troll about custom fossil art. All were rejections.  
  • I wrote to the Dalai Lama, Thicht Naht Hanh, and Demo Rinpoche about the Buddhist ethics of euthanasia. Demo Rinpoche wrote back and said “Everything depends on your motivation. Being a good Buddhist means having a warm heart and taking full responsibility for your own actions.” After performing countless euthanasias, these words of comfort went directly up at my desk at work.              
  • In April JVECC, The Vet Journal, Canadian Veterinary Journal, Veterinary Clinics of North America, and Vet Record rejected my papers.  
  • I headed into the third round of revisions with JAAHA and submitted a paper to NZVJ.  
  • I applied to a job in New Zealand and didn’t hear back.  
  • I wrote to Pete Buttigieg and heard nothing.  
  • I wrote to a rival paleontology researcher and received a long letter.  
  • In struggling with JVIM paper corrections, I received a raft of additional laboratory data and pulled multiple all-nighters to sort it out.       
  • May was consumed by efforts to get help from contacts for a dear loved one of mine who was in crisis. I managed to ask Disney if I could help with paleontology consulting on their parks. Despite being an annual passholder, Disney didn’t need my insights.   
  • In June another paper died in pre-review, this time for good. I don’t even remember which journal. 

Rejection therapy: My turning point 

I decided to get out of the house and went to my first gay bar on purpose. The Savoy in Orlando at 6:00 pm on a summer Wednesday was filled with a local queer commerce group meeting where everyone was dressed in suits and ‘hello, my name is’ stickers—and I walked right back out.  

At work, two friends started plotting to get me to go see my first official drag show. They took me to see Darcel Stevens at Parliament House, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. I also got out to a piano bar several times to belt out Elton John.  

In the beginning of July, I flew out to an interview and got the job, even as I was thinking that I probably wouldn’t. I had gone to graduate school there and we had discussed possibly moving back in order to give my husband the opportunity to go to graduate school.  

I gave three months’ notice at work. At that point I was eight months into my rejection challenge, and I was slowing down on ideas.  

Then on July 26, 2019, at 8:04 am, one week after giving notice, my paper on a new colorectal biopsy approach was accepted for publication by JAAHA.   

On August 20, 2019, at 10:16 am, my article was approved by ACVIM for boarding, and I fulfilled my last requirement—Six years and four months after starting my residency in New Zealand.  

In September, I drove across the country with my brother to Bozeman, Montana, (stopping for barbecue in Macon, Nashville and Kansas City along the way) and left my family in Florida with our house on the market because it had not sold yet.  

I reconnected with the improv theater scene there and got started on sketch comedy writing for the first time. I also got my start in queer advocacy.  

By the end of the year, I had racked up 75 attempts at rejection, many of which were failures.  

Takeaways from my rejection challenge  

From my near-year of rejections, I learned that there was less to lose in trying than I thoughtand got better about it. A stray click on an article helped lift me up through a year of worry and frustration. Ultimately, the house didn’t sell, and Covid-19 brought me back to Florida, proving that sometimes life has other plans, despite how much you think you have it figured out.       

My takeaway is that I hope everyone can find their own tools to manage the ups and downs of pursuing goals—professional and otherwise. My advice is to remember that hearing ‘no’ does not have to be the final answer. Sometimes “rejection” is just a way to find out where you really want to go 


Further reading 

What I learned from 100 days of rejection (Fast Company) 

What is rejection therapy, and can it really heal social anxiety? (Dazed)  

Want to stop feeling hurt when someone says no? Take the rejection therapy challenge (The Guardian)  



Ewan Wolff, PhD, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM), (they/them), comes from Washington, DC originally and is a board-certified internal medicine specialist at BluePearl NE Portland. They are a PrideVMC Industry Liaison, and currently serve on the scientific design review committee and IRB for BluePearl. They have mentored undergraduates, graduate students, professional students, specialty interns and residents and served as an internship director at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists. Currently they are a research mentor for residents and teach regional and national CE, as well as being a research assistant faculty member at UNM Honors College. Outside of daily practice and veterinary research, Wolff has been involved in long-term strategy work at BluePearl and advocacy for gender-diverse individuals in the veterinary profession. They also continue to work on paleopathology research in their spare time.  


Cover photo credit: © dashtik E+ via Getty Images Plus   

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors. 




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