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Meet Riley Sewell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Riley Sewell.

Riley, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
In December 2004, my family and I vacationed at Railey Beach on the coast of Thailand. As a ten-year-old girl, it was a blissful dream; palm trees, sunbathing, snorkeling, eating chocolate crêpes and vibrant sunsets.

But the day after Christmas, everything changed. Our holiday went from bliss to my worst nightmare.

Early in the morning, my two sisters and I were playing on the beach. Suddenly, all the water surrounding the island left. The fish were flopping around everywhere. We did not know what was going on. In the horizon was a thin white line, growing larger with every second. People starting shouting and running in different directions. Some people froze in fear, their bodies refusing to function. There was a sense of terror, uncertainty and panic thick in the air.

The source of danger was a 25-metre tsunami!

It was approaching our island at a rapid speed. My mom shouted, “RUN!” at the top of her lungs as my father gathered my sisters and I together. We sprinted up a hill, knowing our path to safety was at the top.

By the grace of God, my family made it to the top of the hill. The grip of death was mere metres away as the powerful tsunami raged over the island.

This unforgettable Boxing Day marked the death of almost 280,000 people.

This day gave me an unexpected gift; to count every new day as a gift.

What have I done with this gift?

I moved from New Zealand to LA to complete my Master’s in Global Leadership three years ago. The average age of the Global Leader enrolled in this program is fifty, thereby empowering me as the youngest student ever accepted. I graduated in early June!

I am in the process of finishing my first book about the art and science of courage.

I travel across America and overseas for public speaking events, sharing my Tsunami Survival Story!

I practice Mixed Martial Arts and spar against UFC fighters.

I have traveled to over 30 countries, mostly for volunteer trips to third world countries.

This is my story but I wonder what will you do with your gift of life?

Has it been a smooth road?
Two memories come to mind…

Memory one: I had found out my dream school and Master’s program had rejected me because I did not have “the age nor experience”. I was convicted though this was my next step in life. I felt like an utter failure, especially having put in months of work and having told my community in New Zealand that I was going to be accepted.

I called my mentor crying and she told me, “Riley when God says yes and man says no it’s time to go to war”. Over the following few months, I got all my mentors to petition on my behalf. I even managed to get Harvard and Princeton to email the Master’s program to advocate my capabilities.

At the dinner table one night, my mom told me “when faced with multiple decisions, always pick the one that requires you to be braver”. I took her advice to heart, quit my job and booked a one-way flight from New Zealand to America.

Remember- I still haven’t been accepted into the program. I thought “YOLO, let’s move anyway and step out in faith”.

And guess what? One week after arriving in America, I got a letter of acceptance.

Memory two: The high of moving countries had worn off. I was sitting at the end of my bed in my tiny house (literally, 200 square feet). I had no job and barely any money. I was living in Pasadena, Los Angeles. I did not know anybody. I still hadn’t figured out how to drive on the other side of the road. I kept missing the cultural cues. I didn’t know what a social security number meant. My accent made strangers struggle to understand me. Didn’t we both speak English?!


I missed my home (New Zealand) so much it hurt. I desperately wanted a hug from my mom.

But I knew, deep down, I was where I was meant to be. I sent a prayer heaven bound and went to the bathroom. I stared at myself in the window and said, “Riley, you and God are everything you need. You are strong and capable. With time, you will find community, career and love.”

Flashforward to today. I travel the world to public speak. I call Los Angeles home. I have a tight-knit, diverse community of people who inspire me on the daily. I have a “board of directors” (aka a mentor for every area of my life i.e. character, writing, spiritual). I may still be single, but I am so content and happy with this season of life. Singleness has given me the gift of time, flexibility and autonomy to relentlessly pursue my dreams.

I am living in the dream that 15-year-old Riley would journal about!

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?

I am an international writer, activist and public speaker. My words have reached hundreds of thousands of people across the world.

Courage is not the absence of fear but the assessment that something or someone is greater. I desire to see you chose courage in your choices, identity and sexuality. I believe you are one courageous step towards the merging of your dream and reality.

As a natural storyteller, I share from my heart, using my own life experiences, which includes surviving a Tsunami, being headhunted by the FBI, traveling to over 30 countries, using CPR to bring a stranger back to life and working in an orphanage that rescues children from the sex trade.

My business comes in many forms:
– International speaking events
– My blog called “Journal of a Twenty-Five-Year-Old Virgin” where I chat all things sexuality 😉
– One-on-one mentoring and spiritual directing with clients based worldwide
– An online community to empower singles @rileyandrylie
– Preaching at churches or faith gatherings

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
As a girl raised on a farm in New Zealand, LA is still a captivating mystery to me!

It is kind of like God decided to throw all the colours of the rainbow into one area of land. It is hard to bet a city where you can snowboard down a mountain, surf a wave, stand under a Joshua Tree and swim down a river in ONE DAY!

There is also something freeing about the culture of LA people. Many people embrace who they are and don’t care if you think they are crazy! I can’t count on my toes and fingers the number of times a stranger has turned into a friend. Or how within the first five minutes of conversation I learn the dark secrets of someone whose name I still don’t know.

Maybe it’s the accent, but I am still coming to grips with the high probability that my solo coffee writing session results in a date offer from an attractive man who confidently approached me.

In LA, everyone is convinced of their greatness in something and they ain’t afraid to tell you! This is very different from my humble childhood friends in New Zealand.

It’s hard to say what I dislike because LA and I are still in the honeymoon phase of our relationship. But the LA “yes” gets me so frustrated. Do you know what I am talking about? A newfound friend promises to come to your party but if a better option arrives, they will cancel at the last minute. In New Zealand, our “yes means yes and our no means no”. An LA “yes means yes, maybe and no”, plus there’s the chance you’ll get ghosted. In my homeland, we are slow to say yes as we want to honor your heart and protect your excitement.

Hey LA people, can we get better at this? 😉


  • Public Speaking = $250/hour
  • One-on-One Mentoring = $40/hour
  • Speaker for Camps & Retreats = $80/hour

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