Several years ago, following the example of my then wife, Amber O’Hearn, I eliminated all plants from my diet. . . .

ZOOKO WILCOX is the founder and CEO of Zcash, a cryptocurrency that offers privacy and selective transparency of transactions. Zooko has more than 20 years of experience in open, decentralized systems, cryptography and information security, and startups. He is recognized for his work on DigiCash, Mojo Nation, ZRTP, “Zooko’s Triangle,” Tahoe-LAFS, BLAKE2, and SPHINCS. He is also the founder of Least Authority, which offers an affordable, ethical, usable, and lasting data storage solution.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. When it came out ten years ago, it was the definitive study of the history and science of human nutrition in the 20th century. As well as exploring history, it became part of history itself, since a subsequent generation of nutrition researchers have been forced to take sides for or against the thesis of this book.

Unfortunately, most of the people I’ve given copies to didn’t get much from it! They were not historians or researchers; they were just people who needed to decide what to eat every day, and a dense tome of facts and scientific arguments wasn’t what they needed. I learned that in order to communicate with people, you have to meet them where they live.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
I failed at undergraduate university studies. I was disorganized, distracted, depressed, and my grades were barely passing, at best. I procrastinated and skipped class. I had an irregular sleep schedule, no exercise, and a terrible diet.

But there was a new technology that I loved. It was being invented by a startup, and whenever I was focused enough to do anything, I read about that technology and worked on coding projects of my own related to it.

I learned very little from my courses, and I was eventually expelled from university for failing too many of them. I begged for another chance and the dean reluctantly readmitted me. In retrospect, it would’ve been better for me if he had said no!

Nonetheless, I felt like it was an important goal—almost a duty—to get my degree, so I persevered. When I got an opportunity to try out for a junior coding job at that very same startup, the company that I was so excited about, I ruefully told them I couldn’t because I had to finish college first.

Then I called my best friend and excitedly told him that this company had offered me a job interview. “What did you say?” he asked.

“Oh,” I said sadly, “I told them I had to finish college first.”

“I just have one question for you,” he said. “Is this exactly the kind of opportunity you’ve been waiting for?”

“You’re right,” I said. I hung up on him and called them back.

Dropping out of college was one of the best decisions of my life. Not only did it set me on the career path that led directly to my most important successes today, but, more important, when I started succeeding at my new job, I gained self-respect.

The technology and startup was DigiCash, a predecessor of modern digital money technologies like Bitcoin and Zcash. Joining that startup led directly (over a 20-year path) to Zcash.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Several years ago, following the example of my then wife, Amber O’Hearn, I eliminated all plants from my diet. I had previously tried low-carb dieting in various forms, but I had never been able to practice it with consistency. I was addicted to carbs, and had never, in years of trying low carb, managed to kick the addiction. I was also beset with a series of health problems that were mysterious and worsening. The 30 pounds—and growing—of excess flab hanging over my belt was only the most visible of my numerous ailments.

The big breakthrough was when I tried, not to practice “everything in moderation,” but instead to completely eliminate not only all carbohydrates, but all plant food in general from my diet. Like Amber had done before me, I started eating nothing but fatty meat (fatty prime rib, ground beef, pork chops, juicy salmon, etc.). The first four days were a torment of “carb withdrawal” and cravings, but on the fifth day, I woke up with a strange new sensation: a sensation of complete freedom from cravings.

For the first time, I gained control over my eating. The excess fat rapidly disappeared, effortlessly, and all of my other health problems likewise disappeared over the next few months. My energy levels, mood, and mental acuity improved.

This marked the beginning of the most productive and successful period of my life thus far, and also the beginning of Amber’s and my research into the science of human nutrition and evolution.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?

I have gotten better at saying no to requests, such as requests for jobs at my company, offers to take advisory roles in other people’s businesses, invitations to events, and even requests to begin conversations, such as strangers writing an email or a social media message saying, “Hey, can I talk to you about such-and- such?” The realization that helped me was that the kindest and best thing that I can do for people in a case like that is to give them a “no” explicitly, quickly, and firmly.

Whenever I feel myself pulled to reluctantly give a “yes” (which is often), or to put off deciding, I remind myself that giving in to those temptations is unkind to the asker.

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