Changing course.

What's wrong with doing something a bit differently than you've done it in the past?

Of course, absolutely nothing. 

People ask me all the time if or how I stick with a project that seems to be going nowhere; moving in a direction contrary to what I wanted it to go in. And the reality is that, despite my enormous patience for aquairum stuff, I won't hesitate to kill something if it just doesn't ring true.

Recently, I had  this idea for a different kind of aquarium. It was one of those ideas that you just kind of "see"in your've assembled the materials, got it sort of together...

You add water.

Then, you walk in the room one day, look at it and- you simply HATE it.

Like, you're done with it.  Like, no re-hab on the design. No "tweaking" of the wood or whatever...You're just over the thing. Ever felt that?

What do you do? 

Well, I had this idea for a nano tank I while back. It seemed good in my head...I had it up for a nanosecond.


I thought that the tank would be a sort of "blank canvas" for an idea I had...I liked the idea, in principle.

But I didn't see a way forward with this one. I even took the extraordinary step of removing one element of the tank (the wood) altogether, in the hope of perhaps just doing my "leaf only scape V3.0"- but I wasn't feeling it.


A stillborn idea. A tank not capable of evolving to anything that interested me at this time.

So...I killed it.

Yeah, made away with it. Shut it down. Terminated it...

Whatever you want to call it.

That's really a kind of extraordinary step for me. I mean, I'm sort of the eternal optimist. I try to make almost everything work if I can...

Not this time, however.

I killed it.

It was super "growthful" for me. 

Because I had the courage to stop it.

What made me do it? 

I think it centered around two things that I simply can't handle in aquariums anymore.

Don't laugh:

1) I absolutely can't stand aquariums which don't have some sort of background- be it opaque window tint, photo paper, or paint. This tank had no background. You could see the window behind it, and the trees outside on the street, and...yeah. 

2) I disdain seeing filters or other equipment in my freshwater aquariums. Like, I hate it more than you can ever even imagine.  Now, in reef tanks- oddly- seeing a pump here and there doesn't bother me. I have no idea why...guess to me that's a part of the "aesthetic" in some weird way...

Like, I hate seeing filters and stuff. Its only in recent years that I've been able to tolerate seeing filter returns in my all-in-one tanks...and just barely. Now, this nano had a little hang-on-the-back outside power filter...Which I not only saw from the top, but from behind...because-you got it- I didn't have a goddam background on the tank, yes.

I mean, am I that much of a primadonna that I can't handle that? I mean, maybe, but I like to think of it as a situation where I have simply developed an aesthetic sense that just can't tolerate some stuff anymore. I have good ideas, and then I get to the equipment...and it sort of "stifles" them a bit at times.

This is weird.

But it's a very honest reason...I mean, this stuff bothers me!

And I think there is a really good lesson there:

Do stuff that doesn't bother you. 


Find ways to do things that bother you in way that they won't.

Sometimes- often- that involves compromises.

Ditch really bad ideas…quickly.

Yup, kind of like the reputed Facebook corporate mantra of “move fast and break things”, I think it’s time we all let stuff go that doesn’t work. Life it too short. I am not saying to disregard patience (Lord knows, I’ve written a ton about that over the past few years right in this forum).

All I’m saying is that you need to let go of ideas that simply aren’t working out, taxing time, energy, money, space, and “mind power.” Better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all…but better to let something that was failing die a quick death than to have it function as a “black hole” of your hobby energy (and budget!). Harsh words coming from me, but they’re true. If it doesn’t work- Kill it.


(It didn't work. Move on. Next...)

Seek advice and counsel from other hobbyists if you must, but don’t take anyone’s word as THE ultimate. Because the reality is, there is plenty to learn in this hobby from a lot of people. And from yourself, as well! There are people out there in Fish Keeping Land doing stuff you never even heard of, and maybe they are having great results.

Does that mean you should listen to everything they say and try to replicate their efforts to the last detail, or embrace all of their philosophies? Of course not. No way. Take everything- from everyone in this hobby- with a grain of salt. Learn to evaluate aquarium keeping strategies in the context of “Will this work for ME?” Far better than to just blindly follow ANYONE.

Do you.

One of the things I've found it hardest to do as an aquarist who owns a company in recent years is to speed up the creation of new aquariums. The reality is that my whole aquarium "career" has been geared towards being able to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and establish aquariums over long periods of time, allowing them to evolve.

This doesn't always square well with the "get more ideas out there YESTERDAY!" mindset that you seem to need to have in today's social media fueled hobby. I watch some YouTubers just crashing through every barrier in a frantic pace to get to the next project as quickly as possible. It's like, "Can't stand still for a second, or..!"

Or what, exactly?

Do "creators" really think that they're going to lose a substantial percentage of their followers just because it's Wednesday, they're still stabilizing their African river tank, and they didn't get to the 240-gallon Pirahna tank just yet? 


I mean, it's kind of crazy. However, I DO understand the mindset behind it to a certain extent.

Yeah. Like, when you see part of your responsibility being to inspire others through your ideas and work, you want to show as much as possible, as frequently as possible. But, does that mean constantly creating some new setup to follow whatever the hot thing is at the moment? It gets ridiculous after a while ("If it's Thursday, it's time for the Rainbowfish biotope tank...Or was it the macro algae tank? Or maybe it's the Swordtail tank...")

Again, I suppose part of me understands.

"Creators" feel that they need to...create. But why does it always have to be a new tank? Why not produce content focusing on evolving and perfecting the existing tanks? Why not discuss the current challenges, status, and progress on the tank you just started? Some creators do this, and it's great content! Now, I understand, some professionals can show new tanks every week because that's what they do!

But hobbyists shouldn't feel that there is some "pressure" to constantly feature new stuff. Because there isn't. But the pressure is there, sure.

I could have easily succumbed to this perceived urgent "need" to crank out a rapid succession of tanks. After all, it's been almost 18 months since I was able to have a meaningful home aquarium, I've got a ton of ideas, my wife is all for it, and I feel good about all of the projects I've got planned...Full speed ahead, right?

Where's the fun in THAT?

Yeah, I've purposely kept myself on a "hobbyist footing",  and am trying to simply play with each tank and work on the challenges that arise with them in a manageable, logical pace. I want to fully ENJOY each one for what it is. And I've been sharing what's been going on with them. Maybe it's not as exciting as me setting up two more cool new tanks, but it feels much more "honest" to me.

And again, you don't HAVE to kill ideas when they're not working out. I've ridden out plenty that eventually turned in to something I loved.

Perhaps this scenario sounds familiar to you:

You set up a tank that started with the best of intentions: It's a really cool idea. You had the right materials to do the job. You even used the correct aquarium for the work. You set the tank up- exactly how you envisioned it..

Yet, after a few weeks of operation, perhaps the tank just isn't where you want it. You find yourself "nitpicking" a lot of stuff about it. Maybe you're not seeing  the aquarium reach a state where you expected it would be at this point...

Been there?

I'll be that you have.

I've had this sort of thing happen many times over my aquarium "career." What do I do when I run into a situation like this with one of my tanks?

You'd think I'd be inclined to just kill it. To tear it down, start over, or do something else.

You'd think that.

Instead, I stay calm.

It's seriously cool and quiet in my head when it comes to this stuff. I'm usually not going to do anything about it...except to wait. I've been down this road hundreds of times. I know enough to understand a fundamental truth about botanical-method aquariums:  

The way the tank is looking right now is NOT how it will look in a few weeks, or months. 

I play a really long game. One which acknowledges that the fact that our botanical-method aquariums evolve over very long periods fo time, not reaching the state that we perhaps envisioned for many months. My actions reflect this mindset. Unless there is some major emergency (which I have yet to encounter, btw), about the only thing that I might do is to add a few more botanicals.

Just sort of "evolving" the aquarium a bit; making up for stuff that might break down.

Minor, small moves, if any.

All the while, I'm keeping in mind that the system will change on its own without any intervention on my part. It will "get where it's going" on its own time. Adding a few botanicals or leaves along the way is simply what you do to keep the process going. And it's extremely analogous to what happens in Nature, as new materials fall into waterways throughout the year, while existing materials are carried off by currents or decompose completely.

Yeah, just like Nature.

The processes of evolution, change and disruption which occur in natural aquatic habitats- and in our aquariums- are important on many levels. They encourage ecological diversity, create new niches, and revitalize the biome. Changes can be viewed as frightening, damaging events...Or, we can consider them necessary processes which contribute to the very survival of aquatic ecosystems.

Change and variation is inevitable and important in the hobby. Being open minded about things is vital. 

Think about that the next time you hesitate to experiment with that new idea, or play a hunch that you might have. Remember that there is always a bit of discomfort, trepidation, and risk when you make changes or conduct bold experiments. 

Goes with the territory, really.

However, once you get out of that comfort zone, you're really living...and the fear will give way to exhilaration and maybe even triumph! Because in the aquarium hobby, the bleeding edge is when you're constantly changing, and patiently evolving.

Stay Brave. Stay persistent. Stay curious. Stay thoughtful. Stay creative...

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response


October 24, 2023

Quote from the post: “I disdain seeing filters or other equipment in my freshwater aquariums. Like, I hate it more than you can ever even imagine.”


I have troubles with this all the time. It’s the freakin’ heater most of the time in my case that I have the most issues with. I have some nice stainless steel in- and outflow pipes which look fancy and remain looking pretty nice compared to glass in- and outflows which accumulate too much green and brown stuff too soon.

I can never really hide the heater with my set-ups or plants or stuff like that, and it’s such an issue for me that I have thought about choosing fish that can handle lower temperatures, and some fluctuation during the seasons, so I can leave out a heater.

I still wonder why ADA has not offered a fancy, stainless steel, heater to go with their filter, in- and outflows, and skimmer…

As a side note: perhaps it could be an interesting topic for a blogpost to talk about different options to hide, or not have to deal with, equipment in the aquarium.

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