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Playing to your strengths...

Tannin Aquatics

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Do you know those areas of your fish-keeping skills that, well, could use some "polishing?"


If you're like most of us, you're probably great at a few fish related things, okay at some, and well, maybe lacking in others.

I mean, I think I'm pretty good at conceptualizing cool tanks, pretty good at putting them together, making stocking decisions, and taking care of my fishes. I think I'm really good at husbandry. And I think I'm pretty weak overall at the art of aquascaping. And I could do a better job breeding fishes or getting difficult fishes to acclimate to captivity.


Now, I'm honest with myself. Other than the most basic plumbing and electrical stuff, I harbor no illusions that I'm a highly competent "Do-It-Yourself'er" in the hobby. I'm pretty good at research, execution and care in general, but stuff like the plumbing and such is what I have fish keeping friends for!


And there is nothing wrong with that. One of my takeaways from my business experience is the philosophy that you should "play to your strengths", and this has had great implications for my hobby work. I have optimized, so to speak, my hobby activities to concentrate on the things I'm good at.


You won't see me sharing pics of the amazing reef plumbing job I did, or how I set up my electronic controller to perform a variety of plant food dosings, lighting regimens, or automatic water changes. You will see how I set up off-the-shelf- equipment in an efficient manner that works for my style of fish keeping. You won't see me doing an aquascaping demo or winning contests. You will see me showing how I put together a tank with some features inspired by my research of natural habitats that works. You won't see me setting up systems for controlled breeding and rearing the rarest of fishes. You will see me talking about incidental spawning of fishes because I set up great conditions in their community tank. 


And I'm perfectly okay with that. Because I know that the skills which I have perfected serve my hobby goals very, very well. They were borne of a lot of trial and error (mostly error, of course!), and humility. 

Unlike in say, sports, where some people simply have natural skills or atheletic gifts that they were born with, I think fish keeping skills can be learned, acquired, and perfected. Sure, some people have innate patience, intuition, or are better at picking up subtle cues on stuff, but I am of the position that most any fish keeper can get good at almost anything in the hobby by simply putting his or her mind to it and doing!


I know that I could be a pretty good fish breeder if I made the concentrated effort to set up a system, acquire appropriate broodstock, and am willing to dedicate some time to the processes and procedures involved. Sure, I would expect that there will be some initial screwups, mistakes, and errors borne out of inexperience, such as not removing the eggs from from a pari of cichlids when it looks like they are in danger of being eaten by the parents. Or, maybe I would not immediately recognize the signs of an imminent spawn with some anabantids or what have you. 


However, those are things and skills that you acquire by doing...over and over, until you learn what to expect. Most of the best fish breeders I know made numerous mistakes before they were able to get things going like clockwork. They'll tell you that  anyone who is willing to invest the time, energy, and expense towards breeding fishes can accomplish great things.


Aquascaping is a popular part of the aquatic hobby, a great source of pleasure for many. With all of the "aquarium beautiful" and international aquascaping contests, the state of the art has been elevated significantly. Sure, in a competitive situation, people with true artistic skill and talent at growing or arranging plants and decorative components will have an advantage. Some of these skills may be learned, others are innate. However, aquascaping skills are a bit different, in that they are, well- subjective.


Just because Mr. "X" creates an aquascape that resonates with the majority of judges and viewers doesn't mean that he is able to only produce greatness. And you or I, with what we perceive to be "limited" skills, may never win a contest; however, we can create beautiful aquariums that speak to us and  satisfy ourselves. And in the end, that is the most important thing. We don't have to define our hobby success by how others perceive us. Nor are we required to achieve a certain set of accomplishments in the hobby before we are considered "skilled."


I, for one, am far more impressed by the person who has that sort of "jury-rigged fish room" that has all sorts of cool stuff going on in it than I am at the guy who spent $100,000 to have the best of everything, or had a state of the art system designed and built for him, and then is served up as some sort of aspiration example for the hobby community. Yikes!  I saw this in the reef world dozens of times. Spending a lot of money on the hobby doesn't buy success or skill. It buys stuff.


So today's simple takeaway is that you should keep doing what you're good at. You should learn new skills and try new things because you want to. Not because you feel that you have to. And you CAN acquire those skills by investing the time, energy, and effort into the process. In the end, this is supposed to be a fun hobby. And it will be, if you remember that each and every thing that you do can be enjoyable.


Stay engaged. Have fun above all.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

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