Aquascaping has been a hobby of mine since 2009. It began with a fishbowl and expanded over the years into, at one point, 10 aquariums running simultaneously in my home. Let’s just say my house always felt like a tropical jungle and my hands got real clammy every time I opened the electricity bill.

Not only did I want to build new aquascapes, but I also wanted them lush and fertile. 

Works of art inspired by the masters of the craft.

Real showstoppers that would garner bragging rights among my friends and family. 

When I first started this hobby, I would spend months setting up these ridiculously intricate aquariums, meticulously monitor the chemistry, adjust the CO2, reposition the driftwood, disturb the gravel, move the plants…only to tear it all down a few months later in utter despondency.

More often than not, my endeavours would result in catastrophic failure. The fish and plants would do well in the beginning, but eventually, get sick and die. The chemistry was always off-balance and more often than not, algae would run the show and ruin the entire aesthetic. Undeterred, I would tear down the entire setup, scrub it clean and start over. 

I was scrappy and resilient. 

I could handle failure. 

I could try again, no problem.

It took years before I learned an important aquascaping lesson that doubled up as a valuable life lesson: “tweaking kills”. 

In the past ten years, I have nurtured hundreds of fish, plants, and invertebrates of all shapes and sizes (and killed many). It took a lot of trial and error, dead plants and animals, money down the drain and time, so much time, before I realized that the reason everything was dying was because: I wouldn’t leave things alone. 

I cared too much.

I loved the fish so much I loved them to death.

I sabotaged my projects by trying to control every single step of the process.

If a new plant wasn’t thriving, I kept pulling it out, stripping dead leaves, changing the light, temperature, fertilizers over and over again, thinking I could prolong its life. All I did was speed up its demise. 

If a new fish seemed ill, I would quarantine it, change the water twice a day, add salt, give it antibiotics and all my attention and love would stress it out so much it would rather go belly-up than endure another day of my harassment.

If a new aquarium project failed to take off organically, I would fuss with the water chemistry, adjusting the PH and the KH and the GH and the nitrates with this buffer and that regulator. Pour my hard-earned money into liquids and powders that promised me the perfect aquarium. Money well wasted. 

Look, you can’t force an aquarium to behave the way you want. Irrational and invisible forces of nature are at play. Every aquarium is unique, and there is no cookie-cutter startup method that works for every tank. You can’t cut corners and expect magical results just because you threw a bunch of money at it. 

The aquarium will do what it wants, and you need to embrace that fact.

Guess what? Life, business, relationships…they work the same way.

You can easily spend six grand on an aquarium and use all the fanciest LED lights, the most powerful filters, the most expensive CO2 systems, and fish from the finest breeder and you still might fail as an aquarist.

A Pair of Angelfish

Want to know when I finally found success?

When I stopped tweaking everything.

When I set up the damn aquarium and just left it the hell alone.

When I learned to be patient.

Instead of changing the aquarium, I changed my perspective, mindset, and reactions.

If a new plant wasn’t thriving, I pinched off the dead leaves and left it alone. More often than not, it would see new growth within 2 weeks.

If a new fish seemed ill, I would dim the lights, turn up the water temperature (to kill bacteria), give it fresh water and let it rest. More often than not, it would fully recover within 2-3 weeks. 

If a new aquarium project failed to take off organically, I would just wait. Plain and simple. I’d maintain a water change routine, a lighting schedule and more often than not, the new aquarium would stabilize within 4-6 months.

The best aquarium projects I ever set up were the ones that I left alone. I did my best work, used the best equipment I could afford and stocked the tank with the healthiest fish I could find. After that, it was a matter of letting things settle. 

After a few weeks of leaving things alone, the project would speak to me. Instead of going nuts trying to anticipate the problems and pre-emptively protecting against them, I did my best to maintain a clean tank, healthy fish and plants, (you know, a stable ecosystem) and only tampered with the delicate balance of things when absolutely necessary. 

After I made these changes, I found success. 

Nature is funny that way. The less I tweaked, the more growth I saw. The less time I spent micromanaging every aspect of the system, the more time I had left to enjoy the lush foliage, robust fish and relaxing aquascapes that resulted from my efforts.