NFL Player-Turned-Neurosurgeon Shares His Philosophy of Success: 'Small Wins Every Single Day'

Dr. Myron Rolle — who became a Rhodes Scholar and later played for the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers before becoming a Harvard neurosurgeon — explains how to break up daunting goals into manageable tasks in his new book, The 2% Way

Myron Rolle, former NFL player-turned-nuerosurgeon
Photo: Myron Rolle

Myron Rolle says his turning point in life came when he was just 11 years old.

"I had a huge temper, and I beat up a kid because he called me the N-word," Rolle, 35, tells PEOPLE. "The pivot point for me was standing in that courtroom in front of that judge and having him admonish me for beating up this kid so badly that he had to get medical treatment for his injury."

The youngest of three boys, Rolle was living at the time in southern New Jersey, where his parents immigrated from Nassau, Bahamas. "This was the moment where I was like, oh my gosh, we're going to get deported back to the Bahamas — my parents have come so far and I'm putting us in this precarious position."

Now a Harvard neurosurgeon, Rolle says his life could have gone one of two ways back then. "I was this close to going to juvenile detention and not being on this track that I am on now," he says. But he was determined to do the right thing. "Once I was able to overcome that moment, I said to myself, this is it. There's no looking back."

Step by step, he started moving toward his dreams. After earning football scholarships to two prep schools and becoming a top-rated recruit at Florida State University, Rolle spent his senior year at Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar and was later drafted by the NFLto play for the Tennessee Titans, and then the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now a neurosurgeon at Mass General Hospital in Boston, Rolle has added author to his resume with his new book The 2% Way: How a Philosophy of Small Improvements Took Me to Oxford, the NFL, and Neurosurgery.

Myron Rolle, former NFL player-turned-nuerosurgeon
Enoch Kavindele

"The 2% way is this mindset that my football coach at Florida State, Mickey Andrews, placed on all of us," he explains. "He wanted us to make these small tangible, practical goals of improvement every single day and would challenge us to get 2% better — for example, in our back peddling, our ability to tackle, our ability to catch the ball. And then when we got off the field, he'd actually go into the locker room and write on the board: Myron Rolle. 'Did he get 2% better?' It helped keep me accountable, and I extrapolated that ideology for life."

Rolle returned to the strategy many times, including during one of his most difficult periods: when he was cut from the Steelers after only three years on the team. "I felt that I still could have played 8 or 10 years in the NFL," Rolle says, describing the disappointment he carried at the time. "I'd been putting all this effort and work into playing football, and it just felt like something was just being pulled away from me," he recalls. "That was very tough."

Faced with the challenge of what to do next, he found himself relying on the 2% way — "breaking down a larger goal that could seem daunting and making it more manageable." He says it helped him transition from football to his next chapter: "I took the MCAs, talked to neurosurgeons, visited my pastor, prayed." All of those little things helped him reach his larger goal of applying, and eventually being accepted, to medical school.

Although Rolle's accomplishments are especially impressive, he believes anyone can use the 2% strategy to get better or work toward something. "You have small wins every single day, and then a month from now, two months from now, a year from now, you say, look how much better I've gotten, and look how much more I've improved."

He even uses it for everyday tasks. "Any chance encounter that I have, any book that I read, any video, I watch, person I meet, I'm trying to extract 2% from that moment so I can add it to my journey."

His success has also driven him to give back to the community — he founded the Caribbean Neurosurgery Foundation, which is dedicated to closing the system gap in neurological care in Caribbean nations. It also helps him stay connected to his home, a value instilled in him by his parents.

"They wanted me and my brothers to develop a firm foundation of education, have good principles, be good, Christian men, good citizens and good leaders. And so I feel that my journey now — leaving football and moving into medicine, particularly neurosurgery — is a testament to the work that my parents have put into me and my brothers and the repayment for that sacrifice of leaving all we had back home, leaving sunshine, paradise and family."

"I appreciated that sacrifice," he continues. "And now I want to repay that by exhausting all of my ability in my field and trying to save lives and cure people, as well as by writing a book to try to help inspire and move other people toward better versions of themselves."

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