Keeping it all in perspective...

Ever get in one of those "moods" where things are just not enjoyable with your hobby? For those of us who are "lifers", it doesn't happen often, but it's bound to once in a while. I mean, something gets you "burnt"- perhaps it's an algae struggle, a failed spawning attempt...or perhaps just a little bit of indifference to your hobby after  a long period of intensive activity.

Vendors, authors, and hobbyists in general will tell you that you have the power within you to truly enjoy the hobby, and it doesn’t just take a ton of money. If you’re not 100% content with your hobby, remind yourself that it’s not all about going out and buying the latest gadget, obtaining the most unusual fish, or tearing your tank apart. It’s about having confidence is your aquarium-keeping skills, managing your aquarium system with a sense of purpose, and sharing.

I think there are truly attitudes, actions and mental practices in reef keeping that can make you not only a better aquarist- but can help you enjoy the hobby more and inspire others in the process. I've jotted down a few of my theories that you may or may not agree with...the result of practicing and observing the aquarium hobby for decades. They might be a bit off to some of you, but I present them anyways for your consideration:

Don’t pin the success of your aquarium on the “approval” of your fellow hobbyists. Enjoy what you enjoy- because YOU enjoy it. In our society, we apparently place great stock in believing that a large part of our happiness comes from the outside- something that happens to us. In the aquarium world, you see a lot of people putting out these “build threads” about their tanks on forums worldwide, typically done in the spirit of sharing and growing in the hobby- terrific! However, if you read carefully, I submit that a fair number of these “build threads” are almost solicitations for “approval” from the aquarium keeping community. It's pretty common in the reef keeping part of the hobby: You can almost tell by the way the hobbyist posting goes out of his/her way to impress or even appease fellow hobbyists by showing off the tremendously expensive gear he/she is accumulating, the trendiest corals to be kept in the reef, or the over-the-top modifications being made to the room the tank is housed in. Why? It’s one thing to be “aspirational.” It’s quite another to be seeking the tacit acceptance for those we interact with. Life is too short to live for others- and that applies to aquarium keeping as well!

Take a few minutes every day to simply chill out in front of your tank. I mean, we spend enormous amounts of time, money, and energy working on our aquariums, taking pictures of them, tweaking systems, etc., which are indeed part of the fun of the hobby. However, they are “part” of the fun! How about just spending some quality time every day just chilling out in front of your tank, actually enjoying it- not thinking of the next gadget you’re gonna add, or the dose of additive you need to throw in later. You might just love the hobby that much more! I can’t tell you how many hobbyists I visit worldwide who spend so much time concentrating on actually doing stuff with their tanks that they seem to never spend time simply enjoying them. I know it seems ridiculous, but ask yourself when the last time was that you simply stared into your tank without the intent of modifying, cleaning, or tweaking something? You might surprise yourself!

Look for the good stuff in your aquarium. As hobbyists, we seem to be a very self-critiquing lot, don’t we? We’re always finding something in our tank that we think needs tweaking, fixing, or outright replacement. We never are satisfied, huh?

I submit that, rather than constantly evaluating the things that we need to “fix” in our reefs, we should spend some time appreciating and complimenting ourselves (internally, at least) about the cool things that are going on in our aquariums. Sure, your “Anubias garden” may not be full and lush as you envision it will be yet, but why not give yourself a pat on the back and realize that you’ve gotten a great start on creating this beautiful thing? You may be critical of the less-than-perfect-appearing plumbing job you did on your fish room filter system, but take pleasure in knowing that not only does it work, but it was your own scheme- and that, most important- it doesn’t leak! Little affirmations about the thing you put so much time and love into are never bad.

Treat your self once in a while- just because. Okay, there are definitely those of you out there who will say that I included this one because I’m a vendor. The reality is that I’m including this section because I’m a hobbyist! You work hard, and you probably work hard on your tanks. So, if getting that new gadget or acquiring that new fish gives you some pleasure, why NOT indulge yourself from time to time? Part of the fun of being in the hobby is that you can call the shots, and if you feel like you need a “treat” from time to time, you should go for it. Pay close attention to your desire- and your budget- and toss yourself a little reward once in a while- just because. Part of what makes the hobby so fun is that it’s OURS- and we are perfectly capable of knowing when we need to give ourselves a little boost now and then, right?

 Share your tank with other hobbyists. Huh? Why keep it to yourself? Invite some of your fishkeeping buddies over to just hang out in front of your tank one afternoon. Do you need some help figuring out how to install that new gadget? Ask a fish friend over! Or, just give away some eggs from your latest Cynolebias spawn- just because. The hobby, and your tanks- are wonderful social “props”, and the common interest that you share with fellow aquarists when you check out someone’s tank is very satisfying. Many strong friendships (and at least a few aquarium clubs) have formed over a few hobbyists getting together at someone’s house to check out the new clutch of Apistos, or help install the new aquarium.  Don’t have any fishy friends? Not a problem! Create some by posting in Facebook forums or other social media, and flat out ask for help, or invite local hobbyists over to check your tank out. You’d be shocked how many fish geeks will drive for miles and miles just to check out that 300 gallon Amazonian-themed Discus tank  that you've been working on, once they’re invited!


Play to your strengths. Huh? Think about the stuff that you do well as a fishkeeper, and what sorts of fishkeeping activities bring you the most enjoyment. Cleaning your tank? Aquascaping? Pruning your plants? Just what is it that puts you in your “happy place” while working on your tank? Indulge in those things more often…Or better yet, offer your skill set and services to fellow hobbyists, either by interacting on forums, or by visiting fish geeks who need your help. Take it even farther by giving a lecture at the local club about the topic or topic(s) you know best..Not only will you help others enjoy the hobby- you’ll enjoy the hobby even more yourself as you share and interact with fellow aquarists…A great sense of satisfaction arises when you help others with something that they love, too.

Okay, I’m off of my whole "yoga-esque" thing now…

Probably was just a passing phase today…I'm sure I'll be ornery later. But it did feel good to get this out…I’ll be back next time with a more practical, nuts-and-bolts topic that will probably tick you off in some way…that’s what you’ve come to expect, right?

Deep breath..namaste.

Until next time, 

Share, enjoy, be grateful for what we have in the hobby, and practice great aquarium keeping…

And stay wet.

Scott Fellman

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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