Recently, I've been on the receiving end of an incredibly large number of very gratifying emails and PMs from hobbyists, readers, and aspiring aquatics business people. It seems like, in the course of a recent Facebook Live interview, my views on the hobby and how we approach it as hobbyists and business people really resonated!
Obviously, I'm flattered...But I think my philosophy on this hobby and business can best be summed up in these three words:
“Stay the course.”
You hear that expression in lots of endeavors, ranging from sports to business, to investing. It’s sound advice, a great philosophy.
How did they accomplish this? What was their secret weapon? Skill? Talent? Of course. Belief and will? Yeah, belief that they were as good as anyone, and the will to buy into a system, understand it, and stay the course regardless of challenges.
Think about it. Having a vision, then developing and executing a plan to achieve it is a powerful thing. And it’s totally applicable to the aquarium hobby...in every way possible.
Everyone wants a beautiful, healthy tank, and there are so many ways to get to the same place. We can embrace any number of philosophies. As a hobbyist, when you are setting out to create an aquarium, you have so many choices in equipment, livestock, technique, etc. that it’s almost overwhelming, isn’t it? I mean, you could try a different "approach" setting up a new tank every week for years!
The most important thing, in my opinion, is to have a goal. And not only to have a goal…but to have a commitment to that goal. Not to waiver when things go wrong, or when others question your techniques and methods.
In sports, they call it “mental toughness.”
In this hobby, it seems like, whenever you're tryin a new approach or idea, you are constantly “reminded” by well-intended armchair “experts” that what you’re doing isn’t the "right way", or that you’re embarking on an exercise in futility…
You know, the whole "naysayer" thing. We've all heard that, huh?
Why is this? And why is it so prevalent in our hobby?
I thought that there might be at least two possibilities:
Perhaps people are jealous, because you’re displaying the courage to try doing things a bit differently. Or, maybe it’s just that some of these detractors need to feel better about the dogmatic way that they run their aquariums- or their lives, for that matter, and the lack of original thinking they bring to the table?
Or, maybe they WANT to see you fail, because your idea CAN’T be right.
After all, THEY weren't the one that thought about it…Are hobbyists really this mean spirited and negative? I should hope not. But I must tell you, I have experienced a bit of this from hobbyists in the past. Hobbyists that, for whatever reason, just felt that it was their obligation to dissuade you from following your plan.
We've talked about this a lot, because it comes up a lot.
“Mental toughness” is surprisingly important in aquarium keeping…Not only to keep the naysayers at bay, but to keep focused. It’s so darned easy to be detracted in this hobby. So easy to “drink the Koolade” and buy into the collective mindset because “that’s how it’s done.”
Why not be the one who tells yourself how it's done?
We heard it at Tannin all the time while plotting the startup: “You can’t sell the product mix you offer…No one wants to pay for leaves and seed pods, you can't get people excited about this idea, etc. It’s a waste of time pursuing obscure products from overseas suppliers; you can’t sustain the pace, it will drain your resources….” Or, my personal fave- from a very jaded Industry insider: “You can’t have guarantee policies that favor the consumer- they’ll abuse it and you’ll just bleed money…”
Woah! Said a lot about HIM!
Stuff like that.
So pessimistic, really. If we would have listened to all of the unsolicited "advice" were were given, you'd see a very different company than you do now, believe me.
As a hobbyist, you just can’t let yourself buy into that sort of thinking. It will not only hold YOU back- it will hold the hobby in general back, because if you’re beaten into submission any time you dare think against the prevailing “norms”, you’ll never take that next step that can push the hobby ahead in some manner.
Also, at the risk of beating a very well-flogged horse (at least in this blog), I hate to see some hobbyists feel that you need to keep “such and such” a fish, coral, or plant in your tank because it’s “hot” right now. This seems to be super relevant in the reef side of things, where trends come and go very quickly. It’s really weird, in my opinion- but super obvious to anyone who's observed reef keeping "culture" over the past few years. Are we so unsure of our own “coolness” that we feel it necessary to replicate everyone else’s?
I hope not.
Inspiration is one thing. But doing something because you think others will give you respect is not.
In my opinion, this is exactly what we should NOT be doing as hobbyists. For goodness’ sake, just keep the fish and plants that YOU like. Build your system the way that you want to. As long as you’re not doing something dangerous or downright cruel and reckless, responsible experimentation is a good thing. You’re not keeping a tank to pander to the masses or win a “tank of the week/month/year” award. If you are, there is something else wrong with you, IMHO!
So, the idea here is to simply be yourself. Enjoy the hobby. Don’t be trapped by someone else’s definition of what is “cool.” I can’t help but implore you to be yourself above anything else, in both the hobby and in life. Realize that things that YOU do inspire so many every day. We're honored to share your pics and ideas every day in our social media feeds!
Push on through the algae. Persevere when the first biofilms appear- especially if you haven't seen them in an aquarium before...Be patient while your aquarium evolves. Regardless of what others tell you. You have a plan. You have a goal. You have talents.
You're driven. And you're excited!
It is ridiculously appropriate to end this piece with the well-worn, oft-used, perhaps even cliched- yet consumate- Steve Jobs quote:
“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Says it all, huh.
Stay the course.
Stay creative. Stay diligent. Stay enthusiastic. Stay independent...
And most important…