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Women In Wellness: “To optimize wellness I highly encourage you to remember what it was that made your heart really sing”, with Tona Bell and Beau Henderson

When I was younger, I was a dancer. In fact, I thought I would be one when I grew up. Instead, I got a good job, got married and had a family. When I realized something was missing, I knew it was something I was once good at, very good at, dance. With much humility […]


When I was younger, I was a dancer. In fact, I thought I would be one when I grew up. Instead, I got a good job, got married and had a family. When I realized something was missing, I knew it was something I was once good at, very good at, dance. With much humility I started dancing as a beginner again. This time it wasn’t about technique but about the joy and love for movement. I highly encourage you to remember what it was that made your heart really sing; are you still doing it? If not, how can you get some of that magic back? Establish new magic with a new mindset.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things You Should Do to Optimize Your Wellness After Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Tona Bell. Tona Bell, proprietress of The Paper Seahorse, has always had a passion for all things paper, packaging, writing and making. Throughout her 18-year career as President of Tricycle Studios, a public relations, marketing and creative agency, she encouraged the use of handwritten letters, continually finding new and exciting ways to use paper. After opening The Paper Seahorse in 2015, she shares her passion for creative pursuits and focusing on mindfulness, believing that slow living and analog tools help us live a more well-balanced life.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I was swimming upstream in a job and business I thought I wanted but was miserable and I ended up in the emergency room. Over 18 years, my husband and I built a multi-million-dollar marketing company in the science and healthcare industry and had all the trapping of success personally and professionally. We were tired and burned out but didn’t know it. Stress can be a killer, my body started sending error messages and I didn’t listen. I ended up with an infection on my forehead that was very close to my brain and I had to take serious drugs to get better. Later I realized it was the exact spot of my third eye; I literally had a blocked third eye chakra. My intuition and foresight were clogged, no wonder I didn’t realize what was happening. While I was healing, I couldn’t work for several weeks and had to assess my life. I was scared and thought, ‘was this it? Game over? NO!’ I knew I had to make a change. I could stay on the hamster wheel or jump off. I decided I had gifts to share and that wasn’t going to happen through my old life. So I fired myself and never looked back. My passion project, The Paper Seahorse was born shortly after. It is a studio for creativity and mindfulness.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

When I owned Tricycle Studios, the aforementioned marketing agency, I had a very interesting slice of life moment. One of our account executives was excited to introduce me to a client who was visiting our offices. She was proud that we were a female owned business. The client was a representative from a Fortune 500 with whom we were a preferred vendor. As she went to introduce me to the client, she said, “John, I have someone I want you to meet,” he turned around, gave me the once over and said, “I’ll take a cup of coffee black with two sugars.” The account rep said, “Ha ha funny, this is our Owner and President, Tona Bell. I will just step out and get you that cup.” I am not sure if it is because I am Taiwanese or if this is because I am a woman, however not once in my adult career had I been so blatantly reminded of the stories women and minorities are told in the workplace. Had I been a white male, the story probably would have gone a little differently.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I was contacted via email by a person named Leslie to work on a new project. We traded several emails and then when I went to introduce her to my boss, and set up a time to meet, I mistakenly said “she.” I was later sternly corrected by my boss that Leslie was actually a “he”. Still to this day I know better than to assume any gender by a name alone.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My family, my parents, my daughter and mostly my husband. He is my partner in crime at home and in the studio, my rock, my sounding board and my biggest cheerleader. Everyone needs a friend who, no matter what, will call your bullshit and still love you for who you are. He believed in me even when I did not and continues to do so.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Incorporate creativity and mindfulness in your daily life, personally and professionally. Make time for play and slow down. Live in the moment, it is all we have, the right now. Be here now, and smile.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

All work should be play, even at the core of the heavy times, the uncertain and scary times. In the end it really isn’t just about work, it is about how we treat one another. We are all just walking each other home.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In some cases, retirement can reduce health, and in others it can improve health. From your point of view or experience, what are a few of the reasons that retirement can reduce one’s health?

It depends on how you define retirement. It could mean sitting at home and doing nothing, it could mean reinventing yourself, it could mean giving up, getting old, being OLD. What does it mean to you? What do you want? Nowadays, retirement means many things to many people. We may see our parents who retired as old, mentally, physically and spiritually. Retirement can mean stopping doing our life’s passion or going to a job. To stop being a productive, vibrant member of society can mean atrophy. Work can define us and be our identity. When we don’t have it, it can be hard to figure out ‘who am I?’ A lifetime of one role can be a mask that is hard to take off. It can be hard to figure out your place in society or your community. Maybe semi-retirement is the answer or finding a completely new path. I chose a different path, to not just exist in a job I hated but to finally take the time to do something I love and give back.

(Choose) Can you share with our readers 5 things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Journaling — Transitioning and change can cause uncertainty and stress. One way I was able to deal with this was regular journaling. Writing things down to make sense of them, whether it was a happy or sad thing, my journal is a safe haven to deal with thoughts and emotions. I actually do several types of journaling: reflective journaling, morning pages, and gratitude journaling. When I look back at my first two years transitioning from my old life, I am so happy to have those memories. I made it through, and I remember how strong I can be.

2. Yoga — The moving meditation of a yoga practice has been invaluable to keeping my sanity. It is like a reset button. Each class is different, much like each day we are a different person. Mentally resetting with the breath allows me to connect to my true self and the universe. It is my massage for the mind!

3. Letter Writing — By staying connected to others in this lost artform has helped me embrace slow living. To connect through the written word, not via email or text, but pen to paper, is like sending a hug on paper. It is magic. The ritual nature of it is grounding and the anticipation of a possible response is something lacking in today’s instant culture. The art of letter writing encourages me to truly express myself through the written word and teaches patience, something I am still learning.

4. Learn a new hobby or engage in an old one — I always wanted to learn Origami and I started teaching myself models from books. I did this for quite some time, folding in solitude. It is easy, relaxing, portable and be as simple or complex as you like. I eventually found a fellow folder or two and now we meet regularly once a month and share our love of folding with others. I am a member of Origami USA and we even broke the world record for folded elephants to bring awareness to saving this incredible creature.

When I was younger, I was a dancer. In fact, I thought I would be one when I grew up. Instead, I got a good job, got married and had a family. When I realized something was missing, I knew it was something I was once good at, very good at, dance. With much humility I started dancing as a beginner again. This time it wasn’t about technique but about the joy and love for movement. I highly encourage you to remember what it was that made your heart really sing; are you still doing it? If not, how can you get some of that magic back? Establish new magic with a new mindset.

5. Find your new community — Often we spend so much time at work and our jobs, usually co-workers become our family away from home. Once that network is gone, we may or may not still be friends with those people. You need to engage with new friends that you have a common interest with. For me, gardening has always been a passion, to share this with others, learn new things and also to help spread the joys and awareness about gardening has been tremendously rewarding. Raising money to send kids to Gardening Camps, or donating to community gardens fulfills a team need that I didn’t know was missing. A meeting of the minds is very important. Finding people who have similar interests, such as a book club or letter writing club, are invaluable for mental stimulus.

In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?

– It is ok to reinvent yourself

– It is super awesome to be a kid again

– Financially it is going to be ok, rather than waiting until you “have enough” start now or you might be too old to enjoy yourself

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

The Magic Path of Intuition by Florence Scovel Shinn

This straightforward and small book is really the only book you need in life. It clearly outlines everything for profound personal transformation. She was one of Louise Hay’s teachers and this is the last book she wrote. She clearly had a lifetime of experience and practice and was then able to type this on a typewriter. It was found many years later and published unedited as it didn’t need anything! I have read many inspirational books, personal and business related, this is THE one. Clear and concise, open yourself to the universe, the power of your mind and know we are all connected. It really is that simple.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

An Inter-Generational Utopia — develop communities where the forgotten elderly, orphaned children, and wayward animals live in a beautiful and nature space; all living together in harmony. Everyone would take care of each other. The elderly would be respected, they would stay young by being around kids, kids would learn from the wise, and animals would bring both pure love and kindness. By having a farm and gardens, everyone would connect and be in nature, kids would learn to take care of mother earth and all the creatures on it. Plants also teach many lessons and are the backbone of the universe. The elderly would live out their lives and return naturally back to the earth while children would gain wisdom and respect for wiser more experienced people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

If you are depressed, you are living in the past.

If you are anxious, you are living in the future.

If you are at peace, you are living in the present.

– Lao Tzu

This is one of my favorite quotes and is a wonderful reminder that being mindful is the key to peace and well-being. A simple solution to see where your head is at and how to change it. Daily check-ins with yourself are key to setting the tone for your day. It has helped me avoid jumping out of bed by taking a minute to scan my body and see how I feel. Ask myself, ‘what do I need? How do I want my day to be?’ When I take the time to set my intention, I start the day peacefully and more centered. Right now is all we are promised and I want to make the most of it.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Brene Brown — she is so real and authentic. She is changing the world and the conversations we have with ourselves and others. I just re-watched her videos and read several of her books. I want to help to continue and expand her work in everything I do.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Facebook: @thepaperseahorse

Instagram: @thepaperseahorse

Pinterest: paperseahorse

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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About the author:

Beau Henderson, editor of Rich Retirement Letter and CEO of RichLife Advisors LLC, is a best-selling author, national tv/radio resource, and retirement coach/advisor, with over 17 years’ experience. Beau is a pioneer in the strategy based new model of holistic retirement planning. He can be followed on Facebook here or on Instagram here

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