In startups, product-market fit (PMF) means you are in a good market with a product that can satisfy it. Early companies are mostly searching for PMF, adjusting both their product and the market they attempt to serve to find it. Once found, it’s all about pouring on growth gasoline, but until you do, investing in growth activities is futile.

It’s easy to think about finding a good product but easy to overlook identifying a good market. Your solution may be highly valued and easy to sell in one market, while the exact same solution may be worthless in another.

The concept of PMF can be applied to your early career development too. You are your own startup. It’s easy to think about investing in professional growth, but unless you have PMF this will mostly be a waste of resources. You’ve got to do some testing and exploration, learn the problems various markets have, and work on you (the product) to find out how to solve them.

A great product can only be maximized in a great market. So if you are amazing at detailed analytics and data visualization (good product), but working in a sandwich shop or trying to get hired to do landscaping, you don’t have PMF. You’re in a market that’s too small or not a fit for your product. And when you don’t have PMF you don’t really grow.

This is why moving to a new city or exploring unknown industries is so important early on. This is why getting out of the classroom and discovering what kinds of markets for your skills exist is so crucial. Most young people have nothing resembling a clue as to what markets exist or what skills are valued to what degree in each.

What’s crazy is that right now, this very day, there is almost assuredly somewhere someone who values the skills you already have. Things you think not that professionally useful are highly sought somewhere. Sure, the product you have can always be improved, but even as is there is a market for it. The introduction to and exploration of the markets out there is totally absent in the education system. Most people spend the first two decades of their life completely outside of any useful info about markets.

Just as with a startup, finding PMF is a process of test and iterate. You can’t just think about it and then emerge with perfect PMF. You don’t need to know exactly what skills you should invest in and which market to focus on right away. You just need a rough starting point and a process of trial-error-feedback-adjustment to dial it in.

Not all skills are equally valued in every market. Not all markets are equally valuable. Where your PMF is, there will be your growth.