Singer/Songwriter Ilana Harkavy's Self-Discovery Lessons on Being Comfortable in Your Skin

“Who am I?” “What am I passionate about?” “What do I want to contribute to the world?” “What are the steps to turn my dream into a reality?”

These are questions people ponder on their journey to self-discovery. When I was starting this process after graduation and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, hearing the stories of others really inspired me on my journey. Therefore, to empower you on your way, I thought that I would share the stories of others who have are making a difference in this world by being their amazing selves!

Today, singer-songwriter Ilana Harkavy is sharing her story, passions, and life lessons with all of us. I’m so grateful Ilana reached out to me by following me on Twitter so I could be introduced to her awesome music and the Just.Girl.  project – a fiery musical movement that empowers girls to embrace their passions, be blatantly honest, and take ownership of their individual struggles. After checking out her work, I had to invite her to be a guest speaker at The Self-Discovery Retreat to encourage us all to rise to our platforms & shine!

Thank you, Ilana, for reaching out to me and introducing me to your powerful mission.  Why don’t you start off by telling us your life story so far.

My name is Ilana Harkavy. I'm an LA-based singer-songwriter from Seattle, and I'm so excited to share my new music with you. I’ve just completed a five track EP (half an album) titled Just, Girl. This body of work sheds light on the struggles I’ve faced as a young woman and the mottos I’ve adopted to overcome them. I’ve put my heart and soul into this project. It’s been an emotional, but rewarding journey, as I had to really think about the things that make me uncomfortable in my own skin.

I have been singing and songwriting for my entire life! I had an exciting career in electronic dance music and was able to collaborate and tour with some amazing artists worldwide. I also worked on music that was featured on TV and in films. I had a blast! I feel so grateful for those opportunities! But to be honest, I never felt truly satisfied. I decided I wanted to get back to my first love, my roots—Pop music. So, I created my very first solo project, Just, Girl.

The person I am today is still very much a work in progress. I struggle daily to accept what I see in the mirror, but I want nothing more than to love myself. I knew that I wanted to make music that was raw & honest, and that could impact my audience in a meaningful way.

My little sister Shula has always stressed to me the importance of being a positive role model. Since I’ve always been passionate about girl culture and mentorship, I felt it would be a great idea to create an album devoted to the thing I love most in this world—being a big sister. As someone who has struggled with everything from eating disorders to anxiety and depression...to just not fitting in, I knew I had to write about my experiences and deep/dark feelings, but also explain my wants, desires, and tactics to get through these internal conflicts.

So … It is with glowing pride that I present to you TheJust, Girl. Project.

TheJust, Girl. Project is a fiery musical movement that empowers girls to embrace their passions, be blatantly honest, and to take ownership of their individual struggles. Through the power of music, this project relates to and empowers girls to be the utmost honest version of themselves, take responsibility for who they are, and go after what they are most passionate about.

I believe that this project has the ability to revolutionize music and girl culture, as having music that ‘gets you’ is so important.

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a startling subculture: social media accounts devoted to the promotion of anorexia, bulimia, and self-harm. It broke my heart because, not only did I feel saddened by these negative messages, but I also related to them. Haven’t we all been in that awful place where we’ve looked in the mirror and absolutely hated what we’ve seen?

I think we can all agree that there are plenty of negative messages being fed to girls throughout the media, society, and within their personal lives. But, let’s be honest, no one can ultimately bring us down if we decide to own how incredible, amazing, and unique we are! I believe every person, both girl and boy, holds the power to create their own happiness.

I know that being okay with yourself and loving who you are is a CONSTANT cycle, but we can never truly be okay with ourselves if we don’t allow ourselves to be. And that’s why I created my music. I want to provide something functional and relatable that spreads positivity, inspiration, and happiness. Cindy Lauper, Alanis Morissette, & Tori Amos provided that for me….Now, I want to be that for others.

How did you develop the courage to stand tall (i.e., get the courage to share your story and write music)?

I don't think I ever really developed courage.  One day I just sort of realized that it was something I needed to do not only for myself, but for those who would ever look to me for any sort of guidance or compassion.  My life has been chaotic and really up and down and at this point I feel the best thing I have to give is my honesty and my experience...maybe that will do something.  I can only hope!

Why do you believe self-expression (i.e., speaking from the heart) is important?

I just feel like so many of us hold back too often.  We refuse to communicate and to express ourselves.  It's extremely frustrating to live a life clouded by your fear of expression.  Why not express yourself as much as you can?  Why not tell and show the world who you are? You only live once and life won't last forever, so I don't see the point in complete restraint. Art is such a beautiful thing because it allows you to express your subconscious as well as your conscious thoughts.  Sometimes the things you express with art are not things you even know that you are feeling or thinking.  It's SO important. I think every child should take on some sort of creative outlet, not to be perfect at it or even to necessarily challenge themselves, but to allow themselves to let go, release, and surrender to themselves.

Why is it so important for women to empower one another?

This is something I have maybe not a conventional view of.  I don't necessarily think we have to empower each other women because we are women.  Just be kind to everyone if you are able.  And if you don't feel inclined to be kind, learn restraint so that you can express yourself in a non-harmful way. As women, we need to be kind not only to our fellow women, but also to men.  SO many men have the issues they have because of the mistreatment by women in their life.  Men and women need to support one another!  As for supporting our fellow women, I would say try to be a mentor and role model by being the strongest version of yourself and giving your gal pal a compliment.  Positive affirmation/encouragement and compliments are really important.  Women are emotional beings.  We constantly need to feel supported. HOWEVER, learning to love yourself, as cliché as it sounds, is the most important thing.  If you do not love yourself, you will never be able to truly respect yourself, and then how do you expect anyone else to respect you?  Be kind to yourself, be kind to others.  That is my motto.

How can seeing the stories of others change lives?

I think when someone lets their guard down and expresses themselves, it can provide inspiration to others that fear doing the same thing.  You become an example or a motivation for those that feel the same. You can give someone hope or the comfort of knowing that they are not alone.  We are humans. We are fueled by relationships and emotional signals.  If we feel we moved by someone's story, our body and mind will react accordingly, and this can often inspire us.

I want to ask about the song "My Body" - how did you learn to love your body? 

Oh, I don't love my body...not by a long shot.  It's been a struggle.  SUCH a struggle. I've struggled with my relationship with food and my body for my entire life.  The song is really about my desire to love my body but also to love myself.  The main message is that "it's all on me" and I cannot blame anyone for my self-consciousness but myself. I take full responsibility for how I feel and how I act.  I'm trying to encourage girls not to blame and instead to look in the mirror and come face to face with the uncomfortable--the awful--the sad...and then say "I want to love my body" and dare yourself to let that control go for even a minute--light that fire inside yourself and STOP--just love yourself for that moment.

I won't sit here and pretend that I love my body ... I'm not trying to be a hero or as admirable necessarily as someone like Taylor Swift or Demi Lovato--I'm trying to be relatable and give these girls hope that it does get better.  I love my body A LOT more then I used to--baby steps!

How do you practice self-care in your daily life?

I eat healthy, exercise, and say 10 things to myself everyday that I want to work on and 10 things that I love about myself.  I practice self-awareness and responsibility, and often talk to my friends and ask them what they need from me so that I can be better to them.  I also go to therapy and try to meditate or do yoga--long walks...something that will clear my head.  And finally...I write and/or sing to allow myself to have that release that I need.

How important is social support in overcoming obstacles?

It's really important to deal with your emotions on your own, but also to confide in others.  Relationships are crucial in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  Reaching out to people when we may feel they need us is a beautiful thing.  I try to check in with my friends regularly and just ask them if they are okay and try my best to JUST LISTEN.  It's hard!  We all want to talk about our own experiences and relate, but I think listening, hugging, and giving positive affirmations to others is the best thing you can do!

How did you find your support group?

My family and close friends are my support group.  I would say that they just fell into my life naturally.  It's been a struggle.  Sometimes friendships crumble and sometimes they surprisingly stay strong. It's best not to force your relationships but to fight for the ones that make you happy.  I was bullied and outcasted for much of elementary and middle school, but it was worth it in the end because the friends who I've kept are the ones who have naturally just sort of stuck around, and for that I am forever grateful.

What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur just starting out?

READ THE FINE PRINT!  I've run a branding company for 5 years called Nailed it! Media and it's been extremely hard!  The main thing I learned during this time and during my years in music is to always read the fine print and not dismiss contracts.  Business and Personal are separate things.  You have to be self-motivated and you CANNOT take things personally. It's JUST business.  And I will say this--Excuses are not cute nor is being lazy.  If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, start by JUST DOING IT. You can make a career out of anything these days.  Have confidence, don't say "I can't" and ask for help from those around you. Develop a plan, and execute it.  The internet has made it so that we can do pretty much whatever we want now, so there's no reason anyone can't do whatever they want if they put their mind to it.

Thank you, Ilana, for this powerful conversation.  Your story is an inspiration for us all – particularly young women – to be strong, vibrant bold, and beautiful! You are encouraging everyone to embrace their passions, be blatantly honest, and take ownership of their individual struggles.

As Ilana says, “When someone let's their guard down and expresses themselves, it can provide inspiration to others who fear doing the same thing.”

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Thank you all for reading and for your presence at this beach retreat. You rock!

Did you learn something special from reading this article? Feel free to share in the Comments section.  We can all learn from hearing your stories and advice.

See you at the beach!