For some reason, I receive a huge number of those, "I've been so burned out with the hobby lately, then I stumbled on your podcast and your site, and now, I've discovered this different way of doing aquariums and it's been so much fun..! You're amazing! You've saved my hobby" kind of emails.
They're cool. Flattering, even.
Yet, I can't help but wonder what it was that put the writer in such a 'funk" to begin with? I hate seeing fellow hobbyists so down on stuff. I am grateful that they found something here to help re-ignite that love of the hobby, though! I'm just not sure what "it" is.
Look, I'm no hobby "guru." I haven't cracked some mythical hobby "code" that gives me answers to everything.
You can search YouTube for hundreds of self-professed hobby "gurus" that probably are just that. You'll even find that some of them actually have original ideas, too, if you look hard enough. As for me- I'm just a normal hobbyist. I've killed way more fish than you out of sheer ignorance; screwed up more tanks, and tried more weird ideas than most...
But that's about it.
Yet, people turn to me for some reason with their aquarium hobby "blues.."
Maybe it's because I write a daily blog and speak my truth. Maybe it's because Tannin does stuff a bit differently than the rest of the hobby. Maybe it's because we don't give a crap what the "cool people" are doing. Maybe it's because...
Or, as one of my best fish-geek friends lovingly says, "Maybe it's 'cause you're full of shit...."
That could be it.
After receiving yet another one of those flattering, yet oddly perplexing "you've changed my life!" kind of emails yesterday, I suppose I needed to think about this more. Maybe I AM projecting something which is helping others, so I need to drill down on it to see what it is. Yeah, I'm in one of those weird reflective moods, which means I'm probably going to write something really cerebral today.
Let's get to it.
Mental health is really important in the aquarium hobby, and I'll give you a bit of POV from where I put that may actually help some of you.
Time for more "aquarium yoga." Yeah, we've done this over the years, haven't we?
"Lokah samastha sukhino bhavanthu." ("May this world be established with a sense of well-being and happiness.")
Yeah, you won't get this kind of stuff anywhere else in the fish world, I'm certain...I mean, you may not WANT to, either! But it's not gonna be "in the hobby forums." So you're here. Just stay with me a bit longer, okay? Maybe we can sort this out.
You know, the aquarium hobby IS really fun.
Despite all of the bullshit you see on Instagram and elsewhere, there is genuine enjoyment that doesn't involve perfect social captions, "Amano-esque" hashtags, highly staged shots of your tank, complete with houseplants, well-placed hobby books and packages (product placement, no doubt...) antiqued hardwood floors, a steaming cup of coffee, and your cat in prominent display in the pic.
No staging...No "aquascaping dojo" (it's called an empty tank, for goodness sakes! WTF do we call it a "dojo?"), no bullshit. Just genuine, real-deal aquarium hobby stuff. The sheer joy of being a fish geek on your own terms.
Sharing your little world to inspire others. Your original, imperfect, utterly beautiful world.
You know- you have the power within you to truly enjoy the hobby, and it doesn’t just take a ton of money, the eye of an Instagram influencer, or anyone else to tell you how to do it.
You shouldn't listen to them, and do what THEY say to do if you don't hear that "inner voice."
Because you have one, regardless of wether or not you listen to it. It's there. Find it....
Don't be someone else.
Now, let me clarify: I’m not saying NOT to try to replicate someone else’s work who you admire. I’m not saying that you’re a loser if you discuss or repost the ideas of others which resonate in you. What I AM saying is to make sure that it’s for the right reason:
Because it’s what you believe in and love.
Don't do what you don't want, create a tank to satisfy someone else, or re-post bullshit ideas if that's not what really makes your heart sing.
Sure, it might get you more likes if you copy the popular guy on the 'Gram, or buy the "right fish", use the "right rock", repeat "cargo cult" mantras from some other aquarist.
And then you can be accepted, because your tank will be just like everyone else's!!! You'll get tons of reposts by social media "content aggregators!" You've "arrived!"
Now, you'll be part of...a collective of...what?
Of comfortable "sameness?"
Is that fun? IS it what you really WANTED to do? Or is it something completely different?
Don't get caught up in regurgitating old Amano quotes as if they mean something to you, when both your philosophies and your aquariums don't reflect anything about them. It serves no one. From what I know about the guy, I'll bet that Amano himself would have called you out if you pulled off that crap. Who gives a shit if your tank doesn't reflect someone else's philosophies-anyone's- or what's trending at the moment, except other people who are more caught in trying to be cool than they are in finding enjoyment in the hobby the way they want to.
THAT shit...THAT is what's wrong.
You're not being YOU.
There's way, way WAY too much of that going around.
Yeah, people keep coming to me telling me that they've been so "burned out" pursuing this stuff and they're so thrilled to find Tannin, because it pulled them out of the "hobby hamster wheel" and...
Yeah, cool. I'm honored and happy to have helped you somehow.
You don't need "permission" from me or the guy with 186,000 followers, or the famous 'scaper or YouTuber, or ANYONE to enjoy the aquarium hobby the way you want to! You don't need to adapt their way of writing, posting, 'scaping, etc. You don't need to religiously subscribe to somebody else's philosophies as if doing so is the only way you'll succeed in the hobby. NOT mine. Not the guy on YouTube...NOBODY'S.
Because not being you sucks. In the hobby, and in life.
I guess (besides the fact that it's straight-up lame and a crime) that the reason I get so worked up when I see someone trying to rip off Tannin's branding and our "vibe" is that it's pathetic. Like, you can't do better? Of course you can!
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 aquascape apart, or following some other new idea you just saw on IGTV or whatever. Or for that matter, about trying to be some hobby thought leader.
Get inspired, sure. Listen to other ideas- yeah...
But do what makes YOU feel good!
"Authenticity" isn't how closely you can copy the look of that famous 'scapers tank, or the idiotic name you give your work. (It's a goddam fish tank, not the fucking Mona Lisa...get over it. Just enjoy the tank. You'll feel better, trust me.)
Feeling good is about being in tune with yourself, your work, and the animals you love. Despite what anyone says or thinks.
And, to would-be "thought leaders" and "influencers" out there: People seem so desperate to "earn" this title from the aquarium world. It seems so important to many. You don't need to be obsessed with this. I've been called a "thought leader" many times. Maybe I am. Maybe I'm not. It doesn't matter. I just do what I do and share it. Sometimes, people think I've got cool ideas. Other times, they couldn't give a rat's ass. I could care less either way, really. I'm just having fun doing my "thing."
Sure, it feels cool and all to know you're inspiring others, but it's not something that you consciously try to become.
There is no need to. Trust me.
It's this simple: If people dig what you do, they'll do it, too. Not because you've followed some "formula"- but because you're simply doing something inspiring and unique that you love, which makes others want to do it, too. You become a "thought leader" by leading...by inspiring. It's not something you wake up one day and tell yourself, "I'm gonna be a thought leader!"
Just be YOU. Do what you do because you love it.
Happiness in the fish world- and life- doesn't mean that you need the "stamp of approval" from everyone.
It’s about having confidence in your aquarium keeping skills, managing your system with a sense of purpose, and sharing. No matter what ANYONE says. Repeat my hobby mantra: "I don't give a FUCK what ANYONE else thinks!"
I just don't. Really. You shouldn't, either.
Don't hear the attacks, and don't get high on the accolades. Keep doing what you do and helping others.
Now, I DO think there are truly attitudes, actions and mental practices in aquarium keeping that can make you not only a better aquarist- but can help you enjoy the hobby more and inspire others in the process. Here are just a few 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, or maybe they're spot-on, but I present them to you regardless for your consideration:
Don’t pin the success of your tank on the “approval” of your fellow hobbyists. Yeah, I'm repeating AGAIN! It's that important. Enjoy what you enjoy- because YOU enjoy 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 reef 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- that's terrific!
However, if you read carefully, you might agree with this theory:
I submit that a fair number of these “build threads” are almost solicitations for “approval” from the aquarium keeping community. Cries for approval 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 rocks to be placed in the tank (TRENDY ROCKS? REALLY?!?!), or the over-the-top modifications being made to the room the aquarium is housed in.
I get a lot of DM's on social with people begging me to share their pics in my Instagram Stories feed or elsewhere. Sometimes I do, if I feel that it helps share an idea that I believe in. Other times, I don't. I feel bad to see how desperate soem people seem to be "validated" by us. They don't need to. They need to share their work repeatedly because they love it, believe in it, and think it will bring value to others.
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 tanks. I can't believe I need to even say this, but it's true!
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 fish you’re gonna add, or the dose of "Culture" you need to throw in later. (subtle commercial pitch...did you see that?😎)
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 systems, 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 “HC garden” may not be full and lush as you envision it will be yet, or your leaf litter isn't exactly where you want it to stay- 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 central filtration 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 an aquatic supplies 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 keeping buddy over! Or, just give away some fry of your "Lake Tang" shellie- just because. The hobby, and your aquariums- are wonderful social “props”, and the common interest that you share with fellow hobbyists 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 coral, Mbuna pair, or help hang the new LED lighting system. Don’t have any fish keeping friends? Not a problem! Create some by posting on social media, and flat out ask for help, or invite local aquarists 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 40-gallon blackwater aquarium that you've been working on, once they’re invited!
Play to your strengths. Huh? Think about the stuff that you do well as an aquarium keeper, and what sorts of fishkeeping activities bring you the most enjoyment. Cleaning your tank? Aquascaping? Programming your controller? 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 aquarists 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 fish geeks…A great sense of satisfaction arises when you help others with something that they love, too.
Sure, work on skills for things that are important to your work, and grow as a hobbyists, but don't try to do that crazy-ass "thing" just because everyone says to. DO what works for you. The right reasons, remember?
Yeah...common themes here.
Okay, that concludes todays rather high-octane "aquarium yoga" session today!
Probably was just a passing phase today…I'm sure I'll be ornery as hell later. But it did feel good to get this out…I’ll be back next time with...likely, a more practical, "nuts-and-bolts" topic that will still probably piss you off or (hopefully) make you think differently in some way…that’s what you’ve come to expect, right? 😎
Until next time,
Love yourself. You deserve it.
Laugh at yourself- and the hobby once in a while...It's pretty funny!
Share, enjoy, be grateful for what we have in the hobby, and practice great aquarium keeping…
Stay unique. Stay thoughtful. Stay resourceful. Stay creative...Stay unstoppable...
And Stay Wet.