"Fail" quickly?

Do you ever have an idea in your head that you want to get out, which you just KNOW will be possibly misinterpreted, leaving you vulnerable to attack from "critics?"  Yeah...I think that this might be one of 'em, lol.

Let me relay to you an experience and a philosophy I've acquired that may or may not be applicable to your fish keeping experience.

Here goes...

I was talking with a friend several months back, who has a 30+ tank fish room, and he was sort of complaining about the lack of space he had to attack all of the projects he wanted, while in the same conversation complaining about 3 or 4 tanks dedicated to projects that have not played out well for the last couple of years. A rare fish breeding project. He was holding on to them, out of "habit" more than anything else, and was now starting to lose fishes, and clearly felt bad about it. He's a patient, compassionate, and skilled hobbyist. But he was becoming increasingly frustrated with this venture. He asked me what I would do.

I told him that I'd move on.

Those of you who know me well as a hobbyist understand that some of the traits I cherish and uphold the most are tenacity, persistence, and patience. I practice and preach these...And I've been a "master" of pushing it...sometimes too hard. I mean, I'm the guy that has maintained perpetually understocked large aquariums for many months, even years at a time, waiting for the specific fish I wanted to become available, often with little hope of ever obtaining it. Deliberating every change and tweak ad nauseam. I've stayed with tank concepts that, if evaluated objectively, just weren't working, despite numerous tweaks, revisions, and iterations.

And I've been "tenacious" and "dedicated" and "patient", almost to my own detriment sometimes; certainly to the detriment of the animals I've kept. Over the recent few years, I've "evolved" my attitude on this philosophy. Yeah, old habits die hard, but I have learned from life events and business dealings about the value of "knowing when to say when." Knowing when to stop deploying precious time, energy, money, and other resources into a fishy project that is simply no longer enjoyable or successful. In the hobby, in life, and in business, I feel that you should give your best effort into everything that you do, but that you should be prepared to move on quickly from failures.

Life is too short. Time is too precious. Resources are too valuable.

More than almost anything, the time factor is important. You never get it back. So why continue to waste it on something that is making you unhappy?

If something isn't working, you should do your best to salvage it, deploy as much patience and empathy as you feel are necessary to make a go of it in a reasonable amount of time- and then move on if it still isn't working out. Without waiting many months or years continuing on a path that is obviously not working, is causing you frustration, and for which you have no alternative.

Fail quickly.


I know, it almost seems hypocritical of me, in that, on a "micro" level, I preach tenacity and persistence, while on a "macro level" I'm telling you to move on at some point. Perhaps patience is not "scaleable..?"

Sure, there are exceptions to this approach:

For example, if you're trying to breed that rare, difficult, or never-before-spawned fish, "quickly" may not be the correct approach to take. You simply have to try, learn, adjust, and repeat as necessary, which might take years...Assuming that you're up for the challenge, of course. That's the price of admission in that venue.

However, with the majority of aquarium adventures, I feel that giving it your best and moving on once you've lost that "drive" or "inertia" for the project is smart. If that one fish or aquarium concept just isn't working out the way you had hoped, and it's becoming obvious that it will eventually be a strain on your resources (i.e.; tank space, food, etc.) to continue to work with the fish...move on. Trade, sell, or give away your stock to another hobbyist eager for the challenge. 

It's okay. It's not a bad thing to "call it." 

And for those of you who are saying that I'm abandoning my long-standing, oft-repeated calls for patience- I'm not. I'm not saying to be a "quitter" when things get tough (I'll repeat this later, I know!). I'm talking about deploying your self-awareness as a hobbyist. It's not a bad thing. Really.

Hear me out.

If some aquarium project is not working out, and "the fit is not good" for you and your goals, desires, or capabilities, isn't it better to learn this before you spend years and years and countless resources frustrating yourself? The same mental energy and physical resources that you're applying to the "sinking ship" are far, far better spent on a project that you:  a)enjoy more b)have the correct temperament, skill set, and resources for, and c)can create a better outcome for the animals themselves.

Wouldn't it make sense to get the fishes that simply are problematic for you into the hands of another hobbyist who may have a different approach, a better sense of what is needed, and more passion for them? And, for you to move on to something which would provide more benefit to you and the hobby as a whole...Wouldn't the hobby benefit from this?

I think so. 

This is especially true when you're working with extremely rare or endangered species that need to be in the right hands. (of course "right hands" is a subjective thing, but I think you understand what I mean...)

Again, it's not about "churning" through stuff, or "somehow "commoditizing" the fishes we keep, or the hobby we love. It's not about quitting when the going gets tough. It's about enjoying things and being honest with ourselves. It's not a "defeat" to tell yourself, "This Snakehead breeding project just isn't working for me...But if apply those same ideas to the ___________, I might be on to something..."

Look, I am probably fairly typical as a hobbyist. I have some things I think I'm good at, some things I can learn to improve at, and some things I just suck at.

With the things I need to improve on, or just plain suck at- I have some options. I can continue to work on my skills in those areas, take on new challenges, and apply resources to them in order to improve, and hopefully help others. Or, I can give it the old "college try" to the point where the frustration is too great- and then just move on, applying the energy, skills, and passion to something else.

It's a hobby. It's supposed to be fun.

And it's NOT really "failure" in the sense that you "blew it", just so you know. It's failure to complete the objectives you set out for yourself. No one is "grading you." And recognizing that you need to move on because you aren't hitting your objectives is a form of success! Yeah, "success" because you will be doing what is truly in the best interest of yourself, the hobby, and the animals you keep. Redeploying your skills to an area better suited for you. It's a form of "EQ", or emotional intelligence...Pretty cool!

And guess what- the "education" you've received along the way; the experience you accumulated..the skills...and the personal enlightenment you've acquired- are yours to keep. A tangible, valuable set of rewards for "failing quickly..."

And my friend? He finally gave the fishes to another hobbyist, who had them breeding within the month. 

Oh, and the four tanks have been dedicated to breeding some Plecos, something my friend always wanted to do. And guess what? He's getting results.

Weird how that works out, huh?

Just sharing my personal thoughts and experiences in the hobby, gleaned from life. Hopefully, you'll take this in the right context and maybe, just maybe, derive some value from it. 

Or, maybe you'll just be mad at me.

Oh well, at least I've opened the door for the conversation, right?

Stay honest with yourself. Stay committed. Stay engaged. Stay realistic.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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