The beauty of humility in the hobby...

The interesting thing about the aquarium hobby is that it can be kind of humbing. And it's almost always educational. And challenging. It's nice to know that you never will want for the opportunity to learn a new thing or two. And opportunities to learn new things are right there, just waiting for those who push out into new areas of the hobby.

I’d say that I’m in tune with the hobby and the market. Okay, I'm fairly in tune with the hobby and market. I tend to study a lot of "macro trends" in the aquarium world, as many of you do. However, as you also know, the sheer volume of information in our hobby that is available makes it impossible to keep up with every development in every hobby sector.

I guess being in my “coral propagation bubble” in the coral world several years back sort of  left me a bit myopic and hyper focused on one aspect of the reef aquarium hobby. I could tell you all about what coral came from where and how it grows, and what kinds of water parameters are best for growth, blah, blah…I used that knowledge daily.  Yet, once I dove full-time into our world at Tannin, it was easy to have some of that stuff fall back into "dormant" mode.

Interestingly, though, when I play with new ideas in our specialized freshwater world, I find myself drawing upon some of the information I learned over the years in the reef world. It's not really surpassing that many of the lessons have "crossover" potential.

And, of course, no matter what side of the hobby you play in, you simply can't know every aspect of it. Like, I could tell you a whole lot about natural botanical materials and concepts, yet when it comes to the “latest and greatest” hardware, I’m a bit…humbled.

Oh sure, I’m up on the latest technology and concepts, and I know who makes what, but if you ask me who currently makes "the best canister filter, protein skimmer or LED light?", and why, I might not have a tremendous depth to my answer. I know what works for me, but I'm doing a lot of weird stuff that is significantly out of the hobby mainstream. I use tech simply to accomplish basic I probably under-iutilize it.

“I know what I know”, I suppose…

Last week, hanging out with sophisticated reefers for the first time in a few years, listening and participating in discussions and seeing their work was really enlightening. Some of the stuff they talk about, gear-wise, makes my head spin. Honestly. I mean, somewhere along the line, super-high-technology just settled into the reef keeping game- and to a lesser extent, the freshwater game, too- for the betterment of the hobby.

But wow, in just a few years, things have changed a LOT in the reef world! Seems like you have to be an expert at things like computers, cell phones, and "smart home" technology just to grasp how some of this stuff works- and what it actually can do!

It was kind of…well- humbling… Made me realize that, even after a lifetime in the aquarium hobby, you simply can’t know everything there is to know. Sometimes, you DO need to rely on “experts” in other aspects of the aquarium field. 

And there’s really nothing wrong with that!

I rely on my friend Jake Adams at for the latest on all things hobby tech. You should, too! )

Just a couple of weeks ago, a buddy and I ran out to our favorite LFS for the time-honored tradition of looking for fish for our aquariums. My friend was looking for some small gobies and bennies, and I was focused on finding a few Checkerboard cichlids. When we were browsing the saltwater section, I knew that I had more than just a basic working knowledge of these fishes, but the reality was that I was woefully “out of practice”, so to speak.

I was struggling on some of the finer points of some of the varieties of fishes- like ID, etc.  It took me a little iPhone searching and assistance from the girl behind the counter to steer me in the right direction! And it was a great experience, if not a bit humbling. I mean, I WAS this "player" in the reef aquarium world less than 6 years ago, and....

Not a week ago, I was giving my first reef club talk in several years, and trust me, it took me most of the day of touring reef aquariums and hanging with very hardcore reef guys to sort of "re-calibrate" my brain to "turn on" the "reef hobby database" that was lying more-or-less "dormant" for a few years! 

If you don't use it- you tend to forget a lot of the finer details.

Of course, the reef aquarium world is no different to me than the hyper-focusing we do in our freshwater niche, on things like Tetras, cichlids, botanicals, etc.. You just need to listen, learn- immerse yourself in the “culture” a bit. When haunting some of the planted tank forums and other specialty forums and discussion groups (like biotopes, livebearers, and killies), I often come to the realization that there is so much specialized knowledge out there that it’s almost impossible to absorb it all.

And I still hear a lot of freshwater people elevating the reef side as if there is some extraterrestrial-imparted knowledge everyone who keeps corals has!

Yea, I have to laugh, because it seems like everyone on this side of the "salinity line" thinks that reef people are so sophisticated (trust me, I can prove otherwise in many cases!) and super knowledgable. The reality is- just like freshwater people, there are smart, knowledgeable reefers, and incredibly clueless, ignorant ones who simply suck.

Conversely, I am frequently blown away by the incredible sophistication of the freshwater hobbyists- especially fish breeders and planted tank people. I mean, it makes running a reef tank look comparatively simple. And you people who breed some of the crazier cichlids and catfishes- you’re on a whole different level.

It's all perspective.

And it’s all amazing, IMHO.

When I "jumped back" into the freshwater world when we started Tannin in 2015, in addition to being humbled by the awesome amount of “stuff” there is to know in the aquarium world, I was struck by a sense of excitement and enthusiasm that I haven’t felt in years…It’s fun to learn about all of these new (to me) things.

It's a "standard" that there are products, procedures, trends, and “experts” in specialty areas of the hobby that are completely unknown to us before we jump in…how cool is that?

These people have decades of experience with say, South American riverine Cichlids- or even more obscure- the genus Amphilophus, for example. Etc., etc., etc. To know what they know, you simply have to DO stuff for a long time…Or ask those who know and LISTEN- then do your own followup research-Just like in the reef world.

Sure, you can learn a lot by reading, and more by asking-but in the end, you have to DO stuff in order to get the valuable experience. You can literally spend a lifetime trying new stuff in the aquarium hobby and never even get to 10% of what's out there!

Crazy, right?

And I think that's what's pretty fun about some of the wierd stuff we're pushing here at Tannin. We do it because it's fun, interesting and helps push the boundaries of what is possible in the hobby. You see us “enabling” fellow aquarists with new concepts- like the "Urban Igapo" idea, brackish paludariums, leaf-litter only aquariums, etc.- things that will challenge the skills we’ve developed in our “fish careers”, and compel us to acquire and develop new ones!

It's fascinating to push out there.

And sure, it CAN be a bit humbling, if you go in with an ego. So, when you push out into new hobby territory, check your ego at the door and use your previous experience as a "supplement" to what you're going to learn in the new endeavors you're moving into.

It'll really help you!

My advice, if you find yourself in a “fish rut”, perhaps looking for something to get you mentally “back in the game?” Do something, anything- that gets you mentally engaged in a new aspect of the hobby. Do some research, seek out advice of others with experience in those fields, and then…to coin a phrase from an old Nike campaign- Just DO It.

With an almost infinite amount of stuff to learn, and enormous resources at our fingertips, including friendly, experienced hobbyists-there has never been a better time to embark on new journeys in the aquarium hobby. Yes, the usual caveats about taking people’s advice with a grain of salt apply, but with the proper attitude, and the willingness to be humble and “new” at something again, the possibilities for enjoyment in the aquarium hobby are as vast as the oceans, lakes, and rivers of the world.

Think about it. But not too hard. You've gotta do stuff!

Enjoy the upcoming weekend. Play with your fishes. Spend time with your families. Learn something new. Try something that makes you a bit uncomfortable now and then. You might just change it forever with your work.

That's the beauty of humility in the aquarium hobby.

Stay resourceful. Stay curious. Stay creative. Stay diligent. Stay bold. Stay humble...

And Stay Wet!


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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