I had the privilege of hosting Bridget Ross at one of our recent Pioneering Collective forums to learn about her experience pursuing her career dreams while raising a family of three boys with her husband. Bridget, CEO ChroniSense Medical, Board Director LMAT, shared lessons she learned and offered valuable advice to anyone who might be interested in a similar path in a forum called “Women Leadership: Path to CEO.” The following article, written from her perspective, recaps the highlights of her inspiring journey.

In February 2020, I took on the CEO role of a startup company in Israel, but due to the pandemic, I had to run the company from Boston without the option to travel to be with my team. It was a significant moment—what I call now a Pandemic Pause—where I wondered how I was going to meet the challenge. I realized then that these kinds of obstacles have been a frequent part of my journey and that not knowing how I would succeed, yet having faith that I would, has been a part of my risk-reward career journey.

That moment allowed me to reflect on the impact women have across many areas of life and how much we’re responsible for. Women make most decisions when it comes to family care, yet we aren’t supported fully in the workforce for family care. During the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of women leave the workforce—over two million in the U.S. This statistic reflects how many women are forced to choose between career and family during tough times.

A lot of people talk about balancing personal and family life and career—achieving a balance among these domains is not truly achievable in my experience. There are times when your health, family, or career has to take priority and you must focus your time and energy on one of these, cutting back on the others. I’ve had many work situations that demanded my immediate attention, and that meant I missed family events. Vice versa, I’ve chosen to focus on my family over work when I felt those occasions were too important to pass up.

When you’re a woman raising a family, pursuing bigger jobs is difficult, and sometimes the perception of people in power can hold you down. When I wanted to move up, it was not always the case that I was the obvious candidate. I remember one specific conversation with a senior leader when I made clear my interest in a higher-level position and he said, “Wow, that’s so interesting. I never saw you as more than a mom with three kids working.” To which I said, “You know, that’s unfortunate we have this disconnect because I see myself having your job and many above that.” I don’t know where that voice came from, but I had to say what I wanted to do in my career.

In the 1990s, it wasn’t obvious that women wanted more from their careers. Since then, more women have stepped fully into their careers and moved up the ladder with confidence—and awareness of women’s ambitions and abilities has shifted.

I started moving ahead in my career by making my interests known. We women can create our own barriers telling ourselves we are not quite ready for the next job and we let opportunities pass us by, but most men I know are happy being partly qualified and so they put themselves up for the job chances that crop up. Even if the timing isn’t perfect, even if we haven’t ticked all the boxes, we have earned the right to be in the ring. No one is 100% ready for a bigger job, so don’t overthink it! Act.

When I landed a bigger job and moved to the U.S. with my husband and three kids, it meant making changes to the way we ran our family. It was a challenging time because uprooting a family required new decisions and restructuring of responsibilities—changes in every way imaginable. For both my career and my family to thrive, I had to be all in for both. It wasn’t easy; in fact, it was exhausting, and I didn’t always handle things well, but I worked hard in all my roles to be my authentic self. That made a big difference.

I knew I was ready for the CEO step when impatience got the best of me and when a position came up in Boston I found intriguing. I was intrigued because the domain was interesting (digital health), the people investing and working in the company were compelling, and because it meant I would stretch myself, learn a lot, and if successful, be rewarded.

I never let a lack of experience in one area stop me from pursuing my career ambitions, and I hope you don’t either. Understand where your gaps are and communicate them openly. For example, I never had to focus on external fundraising before in my corporate roles. In my current role as startup CEO, fundraising is an essential element, so I have made sure that my board was aware of my lack of experience in this area from the start and have been building a team with the experience I lack since then so we can accomplish our fundraising goals together. Move forward with the knowledge that you can learn anything and do anything you want to do, and know that growth will be the happy by-product for you.

From the time I started my career, I looked at women “on the stage” and noticed it was rare to see women who were living fully in both their careers and in their personal lives. It was one or the other. That’s when I promised myself, while I acknowledged all that those amazing women had done, if I ever made it to “the stage,” I would make sure to bring my authentic self, honoring all the things that matter to me, and I would juggle everything to the best of my ability. If my career only went so far, I would be okay because I was bringing all the things I fully am to my different roles.

While juggling is the key to a woman’s success, there is one important ball we must never drop—the “crystal ball.” This wonderful advice came from Carol Webb, a senior woman at J&J years ago—and I’ve never forgotten it. She described the “crystal ball” as the one that represents the most precious things in your life (family, friends, self-care, parents, pet). If we drop this ball, it will break. Sometimes we may have to throw it up higher than the other balls just to keep it in motion, but it’s most important to catch it each and every time.

Prioritizing ourselves can make us stronger. We women have so many competing demands on us from family, work, and society that we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. If we don’t take care of ourselves, how will we have the energy to meet the demands on our time and energy and how will we achieve our goals? We must prioritize ourselves. The analogy that comes to mind is the oxygen mask that drops down as we await takeoff of a plane and are reminded, in the event of a drop in oxygen levels, to place the mask on ourselves first before placing it on others. It’s essential to get exercise and eat well and it’s more than okay to get our nails done, have a massage, take a trip, or to take quiet time for ourselves. Neglecting self-care zaps us of the energy we need to fulfill our commitments and pursue our dreams.

My journey has been rewarding partly because of the difficulty of the climb. The personal growth I’ve achieved has often come because I’ve pursued jobs that were a stretch. We women have the capacity to do so much. Let’s embrace our strengths and show the world what we can do.