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Myron Rolle: Breaking Things Down

Last Updated: September 27, 2022
The former safety sheds light on his simple formula for success with his new book The 2% Way: How a Philosophy of Small Improvements Took Me to Oxford, the NFL, and Neurosurgery.

Myron Rolle is not afraid of a challenge. The former Florida State University standout safety made headlines when he secured a coveted Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. And when his NFL career came to an early end after stints with the Titans and the Steelers, he took the transition in stride and set his sights on medical school.

Now, Rolle is a fourth-year neurosurgery resident, training at the prestigious Mass General Hospital. His days are stacked with new trials, each of which he must tackle before going home to face the ultimate challenge alongside his wife: two sets of twins under the age of two.

Through it all, he credits a simple ethos gifted to him by a former coach as the foundation of his success: the 2% rule. In short, he asks himself each day, “did I get a little better?” This has allowed him to take a bite-sized approach to outsized achievements.

In this episode of the Boardroom Book Club, Rolle discusses how this rule has served him through the varied chapters of his life, how he drew from past successes to inform his writing process, and how he hopes to inspire the next generation to focus on the power of small wins.

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Bernadette Doykos: How did the opportunity to write this book present itself to you? 

Myron Rolle: I was coming home from Mass General Hospital (where I work) after a 24-hour shift. And my routine is literally when I walk out of the hospital, that’s when I call my wife. I was walking home and I was on the phone with her. We were just talking and I was just tired. I didn’t even make it up to the high-rise apartment in Boston; I sat in the lobby. She said, “you know what? I think you should put pen to paper and tell people your story.” And I’m like, I’m in the doldrums of residency. It’s cold here in Boston. I said, “I just came off of a 24-hour shift. No one, no one wants to hear my story.”

Cover courtesy of Zondervan

But then she convinced me. 

She said, “Look, the emails that people write us, they’re always telling you how you’ve inspired them and your story has motivated their kids or their mentees or something like that. And you’ve always told me the story about when you read Ben Carson’s story Gifted Hands in fifth grade, it opened your eyes to neurosurgery and to your future. So maybe this can be the same for you.” 

Honestly, my wife believed in me more than I believed in myself, and she was the impetus for me to really start to focus on writing and to speak to a few literary agents. We went around to a couple of publishing houses and, next thing you know, nine, 10 months later we have a manuscript and this book coming out. We’re fired up about it.

BD: How did you decide that now was the right time to write a book? 

MR: Practically speaking, in our neurosurgical residency, we have two years of research time where we are away from the hospital. We don’t have as many clinical responsibilities. I had some freedom to start to think about my story, to think about my life, and to think about the mindset and the ethos that has propelled me to have success.

It was the right confluence of issues and situations that allowed this 2% weight to really take off. … I’m not sure if any other moment was the right time. The Bible always talks about “for such a time as this, this is your purpose.” …  This is my season to write. And so I’m glad we got it done.

Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images

BD: What is the meaning behind the title? 

MR: The 2% way is a way I live my life. It’s something that I  grabbed from my football coach at Florida State University, Mickey Andrews. He challenged me and my teammates every day to get 2% better in practice, 2% better in our stamina, our ability to blitz the quarterback, whatever it was. And he wanted us to have these real-life, tangible goals. We’re not gonna get a hundred percent better tomorrow. We’re not gonna get 75% better tomorrow, but we can get a little bit better every single day. And if we do that then that could help us accomplish our larger goal. 

After practice, he would go into the locker room and write on the whiteboard, Myron Rolle got 2% better today and the guys would vote on it. … So it held me accountable, held all of us accountable.

I extrapolated that ideology, that mindset into life. Any chance encounter, any experience I had, any book I read, any video I watched, I tried to grab and extract 2% from that moment and apply it to my own personal journey to move forward and onward. 

This book is really about taking those small, consistent steps every single day, and taking a larger, seemingly overwhelming goal or task or challenge and breaking it down little by little. If you had those small victories, every single day, you’ll see in a month, or even a year from now, how much further you’ve gone, how much you’ve accomplished. 

 I think that’s a mindset that has helped me be a better student, a better leader, a better physician, and also a better husband and father.

BD: What was your writing process like, and did you pull any particular habits from your past experiences as a Rhodes Scholar or a footballer player or your medical training?

MR: I wanted to write those stories as naturally and organically as possible because I wanted readers to really relate to who I am and to my story.

I think if you look from the outside in, people may say, well, I’m not sure if I can be a Rhodes Scholar. I’m not sure if I can play in the NFL and I’m not sure if I could be a neurosurgeon. These things seem like they’re very lofty and out of reach, but the purpose of this book — and the purpose of writing and getting vulnerable — is to create the introspective space to just talk about the feelings that I’ve gone through when faced with challenges that are similar and analogous to anyone’s feelings. The human experiences of self-doubt, uncertainty, challenges in the workplace, racism, prejudice, feeling like you don’t belong in a certain social circle, feeling like you’re a bit of an outcast and you’re a little bit awkward. And how do you manage those social dynamics around people who may look different than you? Talk differently than you? Have a different culture than yours?

Now, readers will have a personal look at some of the challenges that we faced and, and how we’ve used this 2% way to move past it, to move forward, to use it as a learning experience, and to continue to have success. My writing process really allowed me to get into the core of who I am, we’re getting very deep into it. I think people are going to connect with it.

BD: What do you hope that people will get out of your book?

I’m most excited for people to use this book as a key to unlocking their future, especially for the younger generation. This book’s for everyone, but especially the younger generation. I hear so many young people complain or feel angst about their future because they compare themselves to their colleagues on social media or just in the world. Things happen this instant.

Myron Rolle arrives at the 2009 BET Awards
(Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)

I’m hoping that this book gives a fundamental, simple process of loving yourself daily, because you get small wins daily. Making sure that you’re making your progress so that you feel that you’ve accomplished, and then continue those steps every single day that everything doesn’t have to be done tomorrow or next week, everything can be broken down into smaller steps, smaller pieces. With that, your challenges could be met. Your goals could be met. Your task could be accomplished and your potential could be realized.

The utility in the book is something that I find incredibly fascinating, not only for athletes or students but coaches, mentors, employers who are trying to motivate their staff and their company to move forward and to continue to be leaders in and outside the office. I think this book has relevance to a lot of people.

BD: How did it feel to hold the hard copy in your hands for the first time?

MR: It felt great. The picture that was used for the cover was taken when I was in Zambia doing a pediatric neurosurgery rotation. I got a local photographer from Luka, Zambia, and he took the shot. I’m not a huge smiler on pictures, but when they chose the picture of me smiling, I said, “okay, I actually kind of like this one.” And then holding the actual physical hard copy of the book was amazing. I said, “Look, this is 35 years of work that my parents, my brothers, and now my wife and my kids, we all have sort of put into this journey. Now we get to tell the story.”

This is the book that will change me. It shifted me from just thinking about football all the time to also thinking about neurosurgery and the brain. How can I heal somebody? How can I be a difference-maker?

BD: Are there any goals to which you’re incrementally working towards right now using this 2% rule?

MR: I always wanna be a better father, better husband. I’m brand new at this.

We have four kids under the age of two. We just had two newborn twins three weeks ago. It’s a little bit different, but I’m learning all the time, and I’m coachable, right? I’m trying to like, ‘Hey, what do you need me to do? What can I do? Can I change diapers? Okay, I’m not the best at it, but I I’ll do it as best I can.’

I think another goal I have is to continue to expand my philanthropic efforts in the Caribbean. There’s a limited policy and limited education and resources for the neurosurgical teams, providers, and health systems down there. I’ve had family members pass away with preventable deaths in The Bahamas (where I’m from) based on the gap in neurosurgical care. So, from a professional and philanthropic side of things, I would love to see that foundation continue to grow, continue to expand, and continue to impact more lives.

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About The Author
Bernadette Doykos
Bernadette Doykos
Bernadette Doykos is the Senior Director of Editorial Strategy at Boardroom. Before joining the team, her work appeared in ELLE. She previously served as the head of evaluation for a nonprofit where she became obsessed with systems and strategy and served as the curator of vibes and extinguisher of fires for the design thinking firm Stoked. She is constantly plotting a perfect tunnel ‘fit and a playlist for all occasions.