Wednesday 3 May 2017

Lessons from the fish tank

After years of wanting a tank, we finally decided that waiting was taking up too much space, and we should just do it and set one up. It's been running for a little over 9 months, and has been a lesson in patience, understanding the language, and making it work for us. In that time we've only killed 3 fish (compared to Douglas, who for a period there lost a fish every week), and the kids have named the favourites, and argue daily over who's turn it is to feed them.
It's become a nightly ritual for me to sit in front of the tank as I'm heading to bed, to watch (and remove snails) and keep an eye on the different pregnant fish, spotting for babies and new relationships happening. As I watched last night, it occurred to me that there were lots of lessons we could learn, and apply to so many different life situations.

The right conditions promote growth

It took a long time to get the conditions right in our tank. The actual unit was second-hand, from Steve's sister, and when we initially set it up, we got the water tested regularly. But those tests kept coming back as dangerously high in nitrate, and we were constantly told we shouldn't put fish in the tank (too late, we'd already started collecting them.) Part of the process is to clean the filter about once a month, and when we finally reached the end of our first month, we pulled apart the filter, and discovered that when Steve had set it up he'd only changed one stage of the filter wool, but our filter had two sections that needed replacing! Unfortunately, the filter seized and died that day, so we quickly had to scrounge for a borrowed filter before getting a you-beaut oversized filter from a friend of Steve's who used to own a fish shop. Once the new tank was installed (with clean filter wool!) our fish thrived!

lesson - eventually, you'll find your passion, and thrive. But it takes time, and some hurdles before you get there.

There's space for everyone

Recently, we've been doing lots of research to figure out if our tank is overcrowded. We've currently got 4 pregnant fish, and 2 we think might be pregnant or recently had babies, and those babies grow quickly, so our tank looks busy. The research says that based on the types of fish we have, our tank can only carry 12 of one species, which doesn't take into account the other species we have (although it turns out that Steve's beloved Neon Tetras are a sedentary variety, and don't count.) But for now there's plenty of space in the tank.

lesson - even when it feels like you turn a corner and there's another xyz, it's ok, there's plenty of space for the rest of the alphabet to thrive, too.

Related - 5 lessons from walking the dog


Difference gets noticed, but eventually blends in

We have 8 different species of fish in our tank. As we stood in the pet shop, we just followed our intuition, and picked fish that we liked the look of (although some of them came from a random bucketful that Steve purchased on GumTree) and were community oriented (unlike Douglas, who has a shark in his tank, which loves to eat newcomers) Yellow balloon mollies and Coral Platys were special purchases to move the tank away from the orange of Sword Tails, and black and white of the Dalmation mollies. But eventually, when you look at them often enough, they all blend in and look just like fish. Sure, when you look at one at a time, you see the beauty of them again, but as a whole tank, they're fish.

lesson - it's ok to be different, but it's ok to blend in, too. People want you for you, not because you do or don't do what others are doing.

Getting outside the box can be hard

Every now and again, we'll hear a splash from a fish that has jumped. And one of our very first fish did manage to jump out of the tank, but it wasn't easy. And it hasn't been repeated.

lesson - taking yourself outside your comfort zone can be amazing, but that first leap is hard. If you want it enough, you'll get there.

There's always someone behind you

With a few amorous teen males discovering their abilities, the females in the tank often get chased. And the Rosy Barbs love swimming around and around after one another. But there's never been any real fallout from the chasing or following, no injuries, no damage, just a tank full of tired fish (although I guess lots of babies and the need to get a new tank could be seen as a downside.)

lesson - there's always someone behind you. It's up to you to figure out if they're chasing you, or following you.

With a bit of persistence, and some wrong turns, we've created a thriving tank community that we all love to watch.

Do you keep fish? What life lessons have shown up for you lately?


  1. Wonderful post. We don't have a fish tank but my father had a salt-water fish tank at work. Someone put a sign up on or by his door that said "Department of Ichthyology" on it. He was working at/for one of the US's nuclear laboratories. Why don't we have a fish tank? 1) We have cats. 2. the smell of dirty fish water. 3. We have cats who jump and are very curious and one who likes water.

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