What happens when you lose your edge as a hobbyist? CAN you lose your edge? I reflect on this now and again, having worked on the "industry" side of the hobby for a while, and occasionally, I have to look at where I've been to appreciate where I am!
Maybe there is a kernel of wisdom here for you in my story? Perhaps. Personal stories can somehow provide others with a little insight- a little boost, perhaps, that was needed to push you along...
I’ve been an unabashed aquarium geek pretty much since I could walk. Like many of you, I’ve bred dozens of varieties of fishes, had planted tanks, set up my first saltwater tank when I was 12, and my first true reef tank in 1986…I’ve had an aquarium in one form or another most of my life without much interruption. I’ve made tons of mistakes, and had many great successes…I even get paid to travel around the world and talk to fellow geeks about aquariums and all of the insanity of the culture that goes with it all. That is a very cool gig!
When we launched Unique Corals in 2012, I was at the top of my game, from a hobby perspective…I had accomplished many of the things I wanted to accomplish, and was itching for a different challenge. And with the birth of the UC brand and world, came a chance to exercise not only the skills I’d learned as a hobbyist- but more important- the skills honed in college as a Marketing major, and in the business world in general…Putting it all together and adding some energy and a slightly different view. It was magic…the growing crew at UC worked our collective butts off in pursuit of a dream, never losing site of our values and our goal of creating a great company.
Fast forward a few years and we had a successful company, great customers, a large “fan following”, and an amazing team. Every day was sort of “living the dream” as they say…I get to do stuff I used to dream of as a kid…and it’s pretty amazing. As Unique grew to a pretty serious company, with 9 employees and all of the complexity that goes with it, I had taken a bit more of a “big picture” leadership role, and less of a “get-your-hands-wet” reefer role. In the process, I got really good at some things, and, regrettably, a bit worse at others.
Sure, I could still build up a cool reef tank, select some killer coral and fishes, and mix it up with the big boys, but I sometimes found myself searching Google for some of the latest corals and such..it might have taken me a bit longer to figure out exactly what the "_________ Acropora" is, or why this pump is better than that one, but hey- no one is perfect, right? This stuff changes so often that unless you’re trolling the web 24/7, specializing in a few things, it becomes darned near impossible to know it all. On the other hand, you don’t need to.
You just need to have an appreciation for where you are as a hobbyist, and what got you there.
An experience one summer day was one of those moments when I was able to just appreciate this…the sheer joy of being a fish geek. I was working on some behind the scenes website thing when a colleague popped his head in and said, “C’mon man, there’s an Acro with your name on it out there…” ( His way of saying, “Get out into the warehouse and get those hands wet..”). As we spent a while just walking the raceways, looking at the amazing variety of stuff that’s growing out…which was one of the best parts of my job, really.-we’d stop to admire an amazing frag coming up, or a mother colony that’s ready to frag again…whatever. Just loving the coral.
And having cool people around every day to give you their insights, ideas, and share their vast hobby knowledge is amazing. I learned this from Jake Adams ( of Reef Builders), who worked with us a for several months. He absolutely loves coral. Loves them. He’ll point out little stuff about why this-and-that Acropora is doing so much better because it was oriented differently, or because we are adding just a bit more of this-or-that to the water. Subtle things. It’s very cool. Infectious. And as a result, everyone here at UC was falling in love with our corals even more…Including this guy who spent most of his day staring at a computer and talking on the phone.
We all need hobbyists around us who love and obsess over stuff. It keeps the magic alive and gives you a different sort of appreciation for things!
As we were walking, I paused by a particularly nice Acropora I’d been keeping tabs on for weeks. It was looking amazing. A beautiful maricultured teal A. insignis from Bali, I believe. I couldn’t help but say something like, “Man, people would love this coral; we should make some frags of it…” And Jake’s response was, “Dude, maybe YOU should make some frags of it! You love that coral.” So guess what I did? Reached in there, grabbed the coral, took it to the fragging table and made a dozen beautiful little frags. Of course, everyone who worked in the warehouse had a great time with it: “Oh ———-, Fellman’s on the saw, look out!” Or, “Wait a minute, you feeling okay?”
Sure, I was a little scared, actually- I mean, I was this fairly well-known reefer and I was co- owner of what was arguably one of the more well-regarded coral vendors in the U.S.. Here I was, hitting the fragging table on a Friday afternoon, unsure of wether or not I still “had it.” What would my employees think if I shredded this poor coral or broke the saw with my incompetence?
Never mind. I just did it.
The reality was, it was an energizing boost for everyone for me to be out there, laughing it up with the crew and doing what a fish nerd is supposed to do: Get your hands wet. It gave me an appreciation for what really matters in aquarium keeping: Having fun with the hobby, the art…the “wetness” of it all.
It was amazing. Up until that point, I hadn’t made a coral frag myself for UC in almost two years. TWO YEARS! Wow, could I really have been that disconnected from the physical process of coral propagation? Maybe. Were the very skills and interests that got me to where I was at the time still intact? Were my fragging skills there? Well, my cuts were a bit rusty, but my gluing was spot on…I guess it’s like riding a bike- you just don’t lose all of those skills.
I vowed right then and there to get up from behind the desk more often. And I never forgot that. At Tannin, I make it a point every day to spend a few minutes "playing" with the aquariums in the office...not only to "keep an edge"- but because it's FUN. And because it's what being a fish geek is all about. No matter where you are in the hobby/industry.
The lesson here? Don’t become detached from what you love…What got you to where you are now. Don’t ever lose those core skills. Do something that keeps it all in perspective. Aquascape a nano. Frag some corals. Put together a filter. Take apart a pump. Hatch some killie eggs…Whatever.
If you find yourself straying from what you really love...get back in there. Just stay involved.
And to all of you out there…I mean it when I say with great gusto- Stay Wet.