The burden of our own experience?

An internal dialoge...

I have been playing around with some new tank ideas- a virtual "given" for any experienced aquarist, right? 

It's ON.

So, I'm at this new phase now. I have the tank, some of the equipment I'll be using, and a whole lot of ideas bouncing in my head. Some are new thoughts on how I want to approach familiar problems, like like "If I go with these fishes, how will I have to position the wood to take advanatage of the tank's footprint, water flow, and lighting?" Others are far more esoteric, like thinking through positioning of circulation pumps within the display, or thinking through maintenance strategies.

Still others are...well- weird.

Case in point. Like any good fish geek, I spent some time this weekend pouring over "build threads" on a few aquarium forums, to kind of get a read as to how other hobbyists are approaching certain things. Funny, actually, because one of the first things I told myself is that I wouldn't allow any of my decisions to be influenced by others...Kind of a ridiculous position, actually- because we can't help but be influenced by the work of others in this hobby, right?

So anyways, as I pursued a few threads, I'd see the usual iterations of wood, rock, plants, the fancy equipment shots, the ridiculously artistic lights-on shots, etc.Apart from stuff I'd laugh and comiserate about, I saw posts about...IT. You know. The big "hurdle." The rights of passage of starting a new tank:


Need I remind you? Need we dread it?

Yikes, I forgot about that phase. Yeah. Like when the first algae appear.. That part when all of your good work looks like...well, you get it, as it's covered with that familiar patina of algae while the tank goes through its nutrient cycling phase.  This was huge in reef keeping ..The part of the process where every hobbyist, experienced or otherwise, has those lingering doubts; asks questions- goes through the mental gymnastics to try to cope: "Do I have enough flow?" Was my source water quality any good? Did I cheap-out on the salt mix? Is it my light? When does this go away? It does go away. I know it's just a phase. Right? Yeah, it goes away? When? It WILL go away...Right?"

I mean, it's one of those rights of passage that we all go through. The early doubts. The questioning of ourselves. The reviewing of fundamental procedure and practice. The need to reach out to the community to gain reassurance. It's normal. It's often inevitable. And it's temporary.

The point of this piece is not about algae, per se. It's about the mind set that we bring to the table when we experience such things. The "algae bloom" simply  brings out familiar feelings...

But it IS a phase. I know this..and you do, too.
Yet it bothers us, huh?

We reach back into our minds- our experiences- every time our filter releases micro bubbles into our tank, or whenever our pumps make that funny noise...The appearance of biofilms on our botanicals. Whenever the temperature seems to be harder to dial in than we expect. We KNOW what stuff should be like, we talk about it repeatedly...we know that we set ourselves up for success...yet we look, and ponder- and we worry. But we DO know better. We know that all of this wonderful thing are just a phase. Our experience- and the experience of our "tribe" tell us this.

Mansfield - Pic - MicroDerm jets.jpg
It's never this bad. But it seems like it, huh?

Yet it's part of the game. The worry. The reflection. The doubts. The...learning- which comes about as a result of our doing something that, in reality, is among the most enjoyable of pursuits in the hobby- starting a new tank.

We know what to expect.

And perhaps- just maybe- we know too much. Perhaps we suffer from the burden of our own experience?

We understand all of this stuff. We experienced it many times over the years, and have watched- and even reassured- others that "all of this is normal" and to "just be patient and it will pass..."

You know- aquarium stuff.

Outright beginners actually have it much easier in this regard, I think. I mean, when just having a glass or acrylic box of water in your home is a novelty- a cause for rejoicing- 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" that some of this stuff sucks...(any better?)

And that's a beautiful thing- because a beginner is taken by the sheer wonder- and joy of it all. They don't stress out about stuff like micro bubbles and Asterina starfish and bristle worms in their rock work. They're not worried about that yucky algae like we are, because they don't KNOW that it can linger a long, long time if you don't manage the tank correctly at this phase. 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 all get out by the thought of Tiger Barbs, Amano Shrimp, dried botanicals and palm fronds taking up residence in the new little utopian microhabitat they just set up in their New York City apartment.

Might as well be from another world to the beginner...

Perhaps the beginner knows something we don't.

I think I- we- know too much. Or, enough for it to occasionally be a burden.

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

I think I, like so many hobbyists at my level of hobby experience, tend to overthink every aspect of the aquarium hobby, particularly the new tank startup phase, 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! Something that nine tenths of the world will never get to experience or even comprehend.

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. In other words, taking control of the influence our own experience provides, rather than allowing it to taint our whole journey with doubt, dogma, second-guessing, and over-analysis of every single aspect.

Rejoice in everything.

I'm looking forward to the next phases of my journey with the new tank. Looking forward to solving problems, creating solutions, trying new things, experiencing the familiar ones- and just taking each step as it comes. Not over-thinking, and not being completely ignorant, either.

Because I certainly don't want to carry the burden of my own experience.

Stay excited. Stay engaged. Stay tuned!

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman
Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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