I woke up in a philosophical mode today, which, as you know, is often dangerous, as it means I'll either write about something insanely esoteric ("How the health of your Cryptocoryne can affect your wife's clothes-buying decisions") or rather direct ("How to get superglue off of your fingers"), or downright devisive ("Why every other aquatics vendor besides Tannin Aquatics is stupid and unprofessional...")... I mean, no one else in the aquatics world writes about the kind of nonsense I do, huh? Weird.
Fortunately, I did get a decent night's sleep, and I'm sitting on my Yoga mat ready to proffer my two cents worth on your life as a fish geek...
Cue relaxing New Age sitar music...
Today, Grasshopper, we're going to talk about how your aquarium experience can teach you about life.
Ok, that sounds kind of insane, actually.
Yet when you think about it, an aquarium CAN teach you a lot about life. Those little pearls of wisdom that we acquire as we play with our tanks can have real impact on the rest of our life.
Let's look at these "lessons" a bit closer, and if you don't agree- then you can tell me that I'm crazy!
Lesson One - Stay Focused - When building and managing your aquarium, you'll come to the realization that it's hard to balance what you need to be doing with what you have the time, energy, and resources to actually do. Sure, you should be changing water every week, but you have that little distraction called life that may get in the way. And that's okay. Your family and relationships are more important than your fish. Yup. I just said it. Don't lose focus on what's really important.
Focus on quality, not quantity in your aquarium management. Better to do a few things great than many things poorly. Seriously. Prioritize what needs attention more at certain times. Filtration? Algae scraping. Plant trimming? Things will ebb and flow and you can tackle every single one of your fish keeping dreams and ambitions. You just don't need to do them all at the same time!
Lesson Two- Practice Patience- I know that in my personal life, I'd hardly be given the moniker of "patient", but in my fishkeeping work, it's my mantra! It can take me months to go from having a tank in my home to having a tank in my home with plumbing, and months more to having a tank in my home with plumbing and water. Sure, like everyone else, I want a lush, colorful aquarium as quickly as possible. However, I found out the hard way through many years of aquarium keeping that the old cliche about not rushing things holds true. An aquarium is a biological system, and it follows eons-old natural patterns of function and process.
You can't rush it. Oh, sure, you can "seed" your aquarium with biological material to speed up the cycling process, and you can grow your fishes a bit faster with frequent water changes, feeding, and trace element replenishment...But it can only go so fast. Why not follow those good practices, but expect- and enjoy- a slower, more measured pace of growth in your aquarium? Patience is about understanding what steps it's going to take to get you where you want to be, and measuring and evaluating your progress along the way. Editing is a beautiful thing (although, by the way I write, you'd never know that, huh?). Eventually, you'll get there. And you'll probably find the journey every bit as enjoyable as the destination. Trust me.
Lesson Three- Be an Authentic Aquarist - Huh? What I'm getting at here is that you should love being who you are as a fish geek! Sounds like "psychobabble", but it's true! Your greatest aquarium-keeping successes will come when you practice being the type of hobbyist you are. Just because everyone is infatuated with Mbuna and you love Anableps does not mean that you're not a "cool" aquarist. There are so many angles to this hobby it isn't even funny. Love what you specialize in, and share what you know with fellow fish geeks.
If you have no interest- or worse yet- no clue- about annual killifish breeding, for example- then don't get on the message boards and start preaching the merits of wet incubation to fellow hobbyists. What I call "regurgitation"- the act of ranting authoritatively about stuff you may have heard of but have not practiced- is really unhelpful to the rest of the fishkeeping world. Be proud of your aquarium, your experience, and the type of aquarist you are. Share selflessly, and play to your strengths. Push yourself, evolve, adapt, flow. But above all, be yourself.
Lesson Four- Count on Your "Peeps" - It's crucial to have other hobbyists to turn to when things get tough. Sure, you can be a free thinking aquarist, but don't go it alone. You're not an island. A bommie, maybe. But not an island. Err..nevermind. Reach out on the message boards and consult other hobbyists. Not only will you learn more and have a good time with your hobby- you might just end up making lifelong friends! Build relationships, and seek out friends, experts and "cheerleaders" when you need them. It's a smarter, more effective way to succeed in the hobby. And, I must admit, it's kind of fun.
Join the local aquarium club, or start one if there isn't one in your area. Hang out at your local fish store. It's the literal "watering hole" for your local hobby experience. Not only will you be supporting a good cause (your local brick and mortar store), you'll be making valuable fishkeeping connections that will provide great pleasure. Of course, you can join one of the many friendly aquarium hobby communities on line, and connect with fellow fish geeks all over the planet. Cultivating friendships is a great little investment in your aquarium-and your life- that will pay huge dividends down the line.
(Yeah- everyone could use a "cheerleader" now and again!)
Lesson Five- Learn to Stop - Apparently, Im not alone: Many hobbyists just never learned how to say "no" gracefully! This is evidenced by the many 55 gallon aquariums containing every conceivable type of fish and plant known to the hobby! This is a real problem, as it can lead to an overcrowded, biologically mismatched aquatic population at best, and total disaster at the worst! For that matter, more than one domestic relationship has been impacted by what my reef-keeping pal Tony Vargas aptly calls "The Spouse Factor." The solution is to excercise restraint. Just say "NO!" sometimes!
It works with developing an aquarium in your home, and it works with stocking the aquarium, too...You can always get another aquarium at some point (the whole "Multiple Tank Syndrome" experience) if you want to try keeping widely divergent animals together without bloodshed. You just don't want to go down this path, adding every conceivable animal to your aquarium. If you're so busy saying "yes" to all of the wrong animals, when are you going to have the space for the right ones when they come along?
Lesson Six- Face Your Fears - Good heavens, get out of your comfort zone once in a while! I'm not saying to try to set up a 400 gallon aquarium just to prove that you're a badass...What I am saying is that you should try something different from the tried-and true sometime. Keep that slightly-less-than-super-hardy Gourami if you have the hunch that you can do it. Great things can happen when you push through the fear. Put your experience, intuition, and observational powers to the test. You might be the first person to breed that weird Knifefish that you have a secret fetish about. You may be the one person that figured out how to keep that uber-delicate catfish alive and thriving.
I'm not advising you to gamble with the life of a helpless animal in order to vanquish your fears. What I am suggesting is that you should play the occasional hunch and push yourself a bit. If it weren't for the pioneering brave folks like you, we would probably just now be realizing a viable market for rare, commercially-propagated fishes. If someone like Matt Wittenrich didn't take a chance trying to breed dozens of varieties of marine fish, we might be stuck with Clownfish as our only captive-bred marine fish option. When you feel you are capable - take a chance. The benefits to you- and to the hobby- might be incalculable.
Lesson Seven- Lighten Up! - You heard me! Have some fun! This hobby is not supposed to be a peer-pressure-ridden pressure cooker with impossible-to-meet challenges and goals. You aren't required to have a perfect aquascape that some self appointed "aquascape demigods" would approve of. You don't need to be doing all of the same things that the guy in Holland with a 29,000 liter aquarium is doing. You don't, and you probably can't - so why sweat it? Jumping on the bandwagon just because "all of the kids are doing it" isn't really that cool, anyways. Trust me. Enjoy your aquarium, no matter what size, what type of animals you keep, and how it looks. Laugh at the fact that you get all worked up about little snails on your Anubias, or that you keep stinky frozen foods in your freezer, right next to the Haagen-Dazs. Take pride in the fact that you are one of a select group of people that keep some of nature's most amazing creatures alive outside of their natural habitat. Not only alive- but thriving! Craziness.
When you screw up- and you will - accept the consequences with grace and humor. Laugh about it. Share the mistakes and foibles with fellow fishgeeks. You're probably not the only one who nuked his or her aquarium with Ph buffer, or placed a colony of Java Moss two inches from your prized Madagascar Lace Plant, or who used the wrong-sized tubing and flooded his/her carpet.. so smile...That which doesn't kill our enthusiasm for the hobby makes us a better aquarist. Perhaps less financially solvent- but better for the journey!
My hope here is that you realize that an aquarium is not just a pleasant diversion; a fun hobby- it can be a lifelong passion, a teaching tool for the entire family. And perhaps, most underrated of all - an aquarium can serve as a beautiful classroom for some of the larger mysteries of life. It sounds almost bizzare, but I believe it to be true when I say that everything I needed to know about life, I learned from my aquarium. Ok, almost everything. I still haven't figured out exactly what makes women tick. Or how to do those little Chinese finger puzzles work, or how to use SEO, or how to flip pizza dough, or...
So, until next time. Stay focused. Lighten up.
And Stay Wet.