I can still remember the day I brought home my first coral. The frantic preparations, the excitement, the truly massive expenses. As I finally got done with what must have been the longest acclimation a mushroom has ever been through, and added the little guy to my tank, I remember sitting there for hours. Staring at a shriveled up, brownish/greenish mushroom. I remember the fascination with which I stared at this little lump. The time I would spend examining it from every angle, trying to see the slightest changes in it. I remember being beside myself with excitement when one mushroom became two mushrooms. You would have thought I just had a boy or something.
However, like most things in life, what was once new and exciting has a tendency to become mundane, given enough time. So there I found myself. A few years into the hobby, with what most people would probably have called a nice tank, and I realized that the spark was gone. Why did I keep lugging buckets around the house. What was the reward for all the saltwater that was dumped onto my floor? I couldn’t figure it out.
Thus began my phase of tank ennui. I could never quite figure out why I was still in the hobby, and I began to think about tearing down the tank. Like a junky who has had one too many fixes, I began to realize that my tank no longer gave me the same rush it used to. My little baby, that used to require (or so i though) constant attention, nurturing, and loads and loads of cash, didn’t seem to need me any more.
The tank was running, I didn’t really have space for any more corals, and I didn’t have the room to upgrade to a bigger tank. This was as close to a fishy existential crisis as I have ever come. If my tank no longer needed me on a daily basis, did I still need it? I felt like I had crested a giant hill, and realized that there was nothing left to climb. Was my tank merely a challenge for me? An outlet for my need to control and manage things? What was I going to do now that my tank no longer needed me that much?
Was that all my tank was to me? A challenge? A gauntlet, thrown down by Mother Nature, and my own competitive and nerdy tendencies? This is when I realized that my experience with my tank had been more about defying nature, than about the love of the hobby. I was more concerned with performing a difficult task than I was interested in reaping the fruits of my labor.
This was a defining moment in my reef keeping. I decided that my tank from then on would be nothing but a source of joy and relaxation for me. The tank was not a contest, and never could be, since there can be no winners in this.
When I realized that my tank was not a contest or a competition my whole attitude towards reefing changed. It went from a mindset of accumulation, where scarcity or difficulty to keep was the requirement, where the value of my tank could really be measured *in my mind* by the cost per inch of a frag, or the fact that there were only two captive colonies of a coral I possessed. These things no longer mattered to me.
Now something is in my tank purely because I like it. Not because it is rare, nor hard to keep, nor super expensive. These are externalities. They may impress others, but they no longer did it for me. Now the tank is mine. It is not in competition with anything or anyone. It exists in my house solely because I derive pleasure from viewing its inhabitants. It is finally relaxing.