The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill turned 20 years old on August 25, 2018, and, like many others, I found myself listening to the album, falling back in-step with my favorite tracks. It was like catching up with an old friend who I still texted every now and then, but had yet to have the heart to heart we both deserve, whether due to time, life or both. So, when I settled into the listening session with a glass of wine, my notepad and rapt attention, I was ready to go deep.

As I sat, allowing the music to wash over me and reflect on the lessons it’s taught me, I could not help but think about how incredibly lucky we are to have had the honor of receiving this masterpiece. Lauryn Hill’s gift to the millions of girls, who would become women and mothers, and shape this world, was that she gave us her everything on this album – even more than we could have hoped to receive — and yet, we, her audience, have always begged for more.

We have wanted her to perform it for us, unchanged from the CDs and vinyls we played in our youth; we have lamented when she showed up late to performances. But, if we were really listening in 1998, we would not have been all too surprised with what happened after this album’s release. Still, it is evident in our expectations that, though we listened and fell in love with the album, we always remained unaware of what Lauryn has always known: that kind of magic cannot be recreated.

To her credit, Ms. Lauryn Hill has never tried to recreate it, instead, she has given us varying levels of genius, works that – once out of the shadow of Miseducation – would stand as amazing projects in their own right. But they are in the shadow, and what a shadow it is. Not only for its critical acclaim and regard within the industry, but for its place in the hearts of its fans – this is where the shadow looms the largest.

It is said that “the songs of your youth are the songs that come to define you”; if that is the case, then Miseducation defines a generation. It is the album we grew up on or the one that grew with us, as the soundtrack to our first heartbreak in our teens, to the one that cut the deepest in our 20s – to the shifting of cultural perspectives and the changes that come with success – The Miseducation does something albums rarely achieve: it grows with the audience, in both meaning and direction, while remaining unchanged from its original context.

That is what true art does: it shifts the gaze of the viewer, or in this case, listener, so that one must simultaneously contend with the magnitude of its greatness while also acknowledging that even in embracing the genius, we have still only ever scratched the surface. In other words, this has so many uncovered layers that 20 years in, we are still only at the beginning of what this album means (as I'm sure people will refer to Solange’s A Seat at the Table, Beyonce’s Lemonade, and Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer, when their moments come).

The Miseducation is the album that made me fall in love with music, fostering my love for hip-hop soul; it’s the reason I learned to play the guitar when I was 12, came to peace with who I saw in the mirror, grew wings I didn’t know I needed and found strengths I didn’t know I had in the moments I needed it most – and it has done that for a generation of women who woke up and saw a dark-skinned woman with dreadlocks and natural beauty amplified to the highest point. Long before black girl magic was a hashtag, Lauryn Hill personified it. In fact, I could never fully articulate what the album has meant to me and for women who look like me, but what I can do is share with you the lessons it taught me, then reinforced, throughout seminal moments of my life.

Here are my lessons in healing:

1. Find inner peace and the strengths to live for yourself and make decisions from your heart.

"And every time I try to be, what someone else thought of me

So caught up, I wasn't able to achieve"

We know from the title track that the answers to everything and anything exist within you, no matter what. This is a theme often repeated throughout the track and project, especially on "Zion" when she sings, “Look at your career they said … but instead, I chose to use my heart.” This is yet another reminder that so many people are going to have opinions about what you should do with your life, but at the end of the day, it is your life and you’re the only one that will have to answer for the choices you make along the way. So, make sure you’re running the race you want to run and not the one everyone else thinks you should.

2. Don’t give up your personal power for an unworthy lover.

When she sings, “I loved real, real hard once, but the love wasn’t returned,” I feel in it the depths of my soul, because at one point or another, we’ve all had the ghost of an unrequited love echo in our steps after we finally found the strength to walk away. This theme is echoed through the project, and as we learn later on "Ex-Factor," "I Used to Love Him," and "Tell Him," walking away from the kind of love that convinces you that you are never enough, opens the doors to the love of self, which tells you what the heart was screaming all along: You are more than enough.

3. Progress may come slowly, but change will come eventually.

I learned this important lesson in listening to "Everything is Everything" (which is possibly my favorite track on the album, but PLEASE don’t ask me to choose). I first heard the song when I was 13 and unwilling to accept deception instead of what is the truth (see what I did there?). It was a call to arms that became my war cry. For a 13-year-old black girl questioning everything around me, this song let me know it was OK to ask the questions, dream bigger than my circumstance and believe that I would somehow make my dreams a reality, despite all the odds stacked against me. The theme was revolutionary in 1998, but is as relevant today as it was at the time of release.

“Sometimes it seems, we’ll touch that dream,

but things come slow or not at all.

And the ones on top, won’t make it stop

so convinced that they might fall.

Let’s love ourselves and we can’t fail

to make a better situation.

Tomorrow our seeds will grow

all we need is dedication.”

Ms. Hill touched on themes that our generation is finally starting to enact. Progress, though slow and daunting at times, is being made from Black Panther, HBO’s Insecure, conferences like AfroTech and companies like Blavity, creating safe spaces for blactivists who are taking our fights off the frontlines and into boardrooms of VC firms, production offices and record labels, demanding equity. To the covers of magazines and the companies launched for us by us about us, we are demanding a change of the old guard and refusing to settle for anything less.

The fight for independence and this generation’s core competency of understanding our worth was started long before we were even thought of, with a little girl, skinny legs, a press and curl, and mother who always thought she’d be a star. Thank you, Ms. Lauryn Hill for this album, work and legacy.

We are forever indebted to you for sharing it with us.