Fresh and new.

I was chatting with someone on Instagram the other day, and he brought up the idea of trying to do a new tank based on____________.  NOT based upon some idea he had in his head. NOT based on a wild habitat which he saw. NOT even based on a plant or a fish or a rock that he wanted to work around...Nope. He wanted to do the same thing as some other guy, and to be able to garner all of the cool "accolades" which accompany a tank going "viral" or whatever.

Oh, and it HAD to be "amazing." (his words)

I was like, "Dude- do what you want...but the emphasis should be on the 'what YOU want' part.  Not what people on social media would find 'cool!' Don't fall into that trap..."

My usual schtick. Yeah.

I was simply dumbfounded that creating a near duplicate of someone else's tank he saw on social, for the expressed purpose of getting more attention on social was the entire "goal" for this tank build. And, that he was putting all this pressure on himself to "match" or "exceed" the that work he was essentially copying. Like, WTF?

Of course, it wouldn't be productive or even fair for me to simply trash the guy, I needed to help him understand how he was doing this to himself. On one hand, if you're trying to endear yourself to the "Every tank that looks like_______ is awesome!" crowd, this was a perfect recipe, I guess. On the other hand, when I pushed back, he did kind of sheepishly admit that this was a bit silly...and that he was a bit "burnt out" on what he was up to in the hobby at the moment.

Ahah..."Burnt out."

Heard that one before.

Of course, then the conversation briefly turned to ways to overcome this "burnout" that he and others sometimes fee within the hobby. While it's always possible to get "burnt out" even on stuff you love, I think that it's exacerbated by doing work which doesn't truly speak to you. Doing it for the wrong reasons. Or getting way over your head for something which isn't really what you want to do.

I guess "burnt out" is the wrong descriptor...More like, "benignly disinterested." It can be doing stuff that's actually interesting to you! Yup. Besides just doing stuff that speaks to you, I think the other key is to do a diversity of things which interest you at one time, when possible; to explore multiple "disciplines" within the hobby. Do more. Do different. Scratch the itch...

I love the idea of keeping a few different types of aquariums at any given time, if it's possible. I mean, it's a privilege to just be able to keep one aquarium. However, when you have the means and ability to keep a few tanks, not only does the real magic start happening, you have multiple avenues to direct your passions and energies. I like to keep tanks from different "disciplines"; in my case, blackwater/botanical, "evolved" brackish, and a coral tank.

There are real advantages to having tanks from various hobby sectors in play. First and foremost, if you should ever find get just a bit less stoked about one particular tank (or type of tank, in my case), you can focus on the one that speaks to you at the moment. Tweak the others when you feel more interested in them. It keeps you alive.

Keeps things fresh.

Staying fresh is quite important. The hobby is supposed to be fun, and I suspect that, for an increasing number of people, it's becoming more of a "chore" than anything else. This wasn't the first conversation I've had with a hobbyist who was feeling what this guy was feeling: A source of  self-inflicted pressure to do stuff...To "produce." 

And yeah, I DO think that this "pressure" is a direct "by-product" of social media. A human desire to be "accepted" as part of the "cool kids." And I think that's resulted in a lot of hobbyists getting a bit off course, and doing and sharing (or feeling compelled to) stuff that really doesn't resonate within them. I'll tell you one thing, this "pressure" has resulted in a large number of awfully similar tanks popping up on the 'gram and elsewhere...

I've commented about this before, but my Instagram feed is becoming a shockingly bland and replicative place. A see of sameness. I see literally dozens and dozens of aquariums done up in the same rigid "style", with the main differentiator being either how many sexy potted plants are on the shelves surrounding the tank, or perhaps a slight variation of the way the wood breaks the water line, or how many "Hakkai stones", "Frodo stones", or whatever the trending "rock du jour" is comprising the hardscape.

If I see one more breathless, "What fish do you think should we put in this new 'mini Rotala' tank!?" pseudo-tease post (when the reality is that they were always going to put in Rice Fish, Ruby Tetras, or White Clouds regardless.Who the fuck sets up a tank with no clue at all what they want to put in it? C'mon...), I'm going to vomit. And don't get me started on the copycat sterile-clean, ridiculously over-diverse, almost artificially "Nature Style" marine macroalage tanks which are starting to become the latest aspirational wet dream of every uninspired hobbyist looking to increase his following count and tag potential "sponsors" in his posts. 

Whatever happened for doing what resonates with YOU? 

I want to metaphorically beat the lameness out of you. Of course, maybe you really DO enjoy exactly copying someone else's tank. It's what you like.


I mean, look, if the "macro algae clean room fantasy masturbation tank" is your thing, do it. If you really love "ADA Black Root" and "Old Mountain Stones" or whatever, and they make your heart sing, use them. Don't let me shame you away from doing what you truly want to do. Where I WILL nudge you is when you want to do it for some crazy-ass reasons, like we just discussed. That's just not healthy. 

Doing something just to stand out from the crowd is a weird goal, too. But doing what you like- even if it just happens to be a bit different from the prevailing trends, truly stands out. For the right reasons.

What tanks actually DO really stand out to me hese days?

Well, it's not necessarily ones that use different materials or whatever. It's the ones that reflect a different approach. A story. Something which doesn't feel like it's trying to go over the top and out-create the (obvious) original inspiration, or match up to some hashtag-friendly trend, "just because." Something which feels authentic, because it comes from the heart of the creator, not from the Instagram feed of some aquascaping content aggregator.

The ones which truly stand out are standing out for a reason: Because they're unique, fresh, different. They reflect the interest and aspirations of their creators. They don't try to be "something", other than what they are. They don't need a fucking stupid name ("Heavenly Dawn ON the Hill of Light" or whatever) to "classify" them or give them "legitimacy."


Screw trying to get "picked up" by the aquascaping content aggregators on social media networks. Screw trying to get "likes" and 💕 and all of that shit. Just do something that you like and share it to inspire others to share their own unique work. Not another copy of yours. 

And there is another, sure-fire "trick" that can help you be happier in your own lane as an aquarist...

Think like a beginner.

Yeah. Really.

Beginners have this "thing..."

Perhaps the beginner knows something we don't.

I think I- we- that is, more "advanced" hobbyists...know too much. 


And I don't mean that from an arrogant perspective or anything.

I think that so many hobbyists at our level of experience tend to overthink every aspect of the aquarium hobby. We carry "baggage." We worry about what the crowd on Facebook or Instagram thinks. It's quite evident- particularly during the new tank startup phase...Almost no one shares the earliest, dirtiest days of their new tanks. We feel the need to "prep" it for the masses. We don't feel it. Rather than just letting ourselves enjoy the moment- the wonder, and the awe that comes from doing something special, beautiful, and, let's face it- incredibly cool- we worry about shit like "presentation."

I mean, setting up a slice of Nature in your own home? 

Shit, that IS something amazing, huh? 

Something that nine-tenths of the world will never get to experience or even comprehend.

We should know that. We know a lot of other stuff, so...

Perhaps- just maybe...we know too much.


We understand all of this stuff that's going on in our tanks. Yet, for some reason, many are afraid if it's a bit different than, or doesn't meet someone else's expectations. We worry about "them", because they might not approve...

Fuck "them."


We, of course, worry about our dream tank not being in the perfect state of awesomeness at all times, ready to show on Instagram Live, or whatever....

We stress about algae or cloudy water, or whatever.

Outright beginners actually have it much easier in this regard, I think.

I mean, when just having a glass or acrylic box of freshwater or saltwater filled with fishes in your home is a novelty- a cause for rejoicing, that's the magic part. As a beginner, you tend to live in a bubble of gentle "ignorance" (eeehw- that's kind of harsh)- okay, let's call it "blissful lack of awareness about some things" that, to most experienced hobbyists, some of this stuff can really suck, and is a source of shame for some reason.


And that is actually a beautiful thing- because, unburdened from this junk, a beginner is taken by the sheer wonder- and joy- of it all. They don't stress out about stuff like algal films, detritus on the substrate, micro bubbles and- oh shit- the occasional out-of-place piece of wood in their aquascape. Shit, they likely don't really care what KIND of wood it is, either. They're not worried about that, or any other of a dozen minutiae like we are, because they don't KNOW that it's a "problem." 

They're not "handcuffed" by their past experiences and the knowledge of having set up dozens of tanks over the years. Rather, they're just stoked as shit by the thought of Glowlight Tetras, Amano Shrimp, Glass Catfish, and "ultra-common" Bettas taking up residence in the new little utopian microhabitat they just set up in their New York City apartment.

What about us- the so-called "advanced" or experienced hobbyists? Can we liberate ourselves from this hell of our own creation?


I think it's entirely possible to release ourselves from the "burden" of our own experience, and to allow ourselves to enjoy every aspect of this great hobby, free from preconception or prejudices. To just make decisions based on what our research- gut, or yeah- I suppose, experience- tells us is the "right" thing to do, then letting stuff happen, and accepting it.

Not to waste any energy worrying about how many damn "likes" our next tank pic gets.

In other words, taking control of the influence of others, as well as that our own experience, rather than allowing it to taint our whole journey with doubt, dogma, second-guessing, and over-analysis of every single aspect. Don't get high on the accolades, or pissed off about the criticisms which others may levy. 

And relaxing into it. Enjoying engaging in the hobby for YOU.

Embracing the sheer joy of being a beginner. Again. it's exciting. It's fresh. It's healthy. Even if you're doing more "advanced" stuff...

Let go. Don't do stuff in the hobby to please others...that's a recipe for misery, trust me.

Do stuff that's fresh, new, and yours.

Stay creative. Stay resourceful. Stay inspired. Stay original. Stay bold...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment