Fast Track: Help Desk - Is it possible to balance home with work?

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I am 42 years old and have worked mainly within the pharmaceutical industry for the past 18 years, as a statistician, then a clinical research manager and, for the past five years, as a freelance consultant and trainer from home, which enables me to spend time with my three children. Now that my youngest is at school I find myself at home wondering which route to take next. I would like to return to a stimulating office environment but am very conscious about my age being a barrier and wonder whether I am totally unrealistic about finding a job that will allow me time with my family and provide work satisfaction. I speak French, German and Hebrew and my dream has always been to find a job using my language skills.

Ruth, London

Oliver James, Psychologist:

You have already made the decision and are only writing in to have it rubber-stamped: Live your dream. When contemplating careers, there is a three-way tension between self-expression, earning money and having enough unpaid time for everyone . The trick is to get paid as much as possible for doing the things you would choose to do in your spare time. You seem to be unusually fortunate in that you have plenty of skills and experience, are relatively young (do not let being 42 get you down), and, above all, you have a dream. Surprisingly, many people in this wannabe age do not have one. I do not know much about your field but I should have thought it would be relatively easy for you to find a job using your skills and your languages. There are not a lot of people like you around. Go for it.

Liz Bavidge, director of the Women Returners' Network:

You are describing many mothers' ideal job! Basically, you need to decide your own priorities. Office life? Part-time working? Own business? It might be possible to combine all three and also work from home, but it would take some organising and a very flexible approach, which it sounds as if you have. Portfolio careers appeal to many experienced women (and men) because they allow flexibility and the different strands can be complementary.

You have a range of transferable skills, including time management, stress management and crisis management, which you can major on if you are going for a job working for somebody else. I don't see your age as a barrier; you are a person in your prime, with skills, experience, energy and enthusiasm to offer. I recently heard of a woman in her sixties who found the job of her dreams, so don't give up.

I suspect that after the career you describe, you might prefer to work for yourself. Have you thought about designing and selling personalised holiday programmes using the latest technology? (For a WRN information leaflet send an sae to WRN, 100 Park Village East, NW1 3SR.)

Liz Bargh, chief executive of management consultants WFD

Are you being totally unrealistic? No. You have continued working and have a successful track record. You have demonstrated your flexibility and adaptability, and have acquired a portfolio of marketable skills along the way. Draw yourself up a clear game-plan. Set yourself some objectives and times by which you will have achieved them.

One book which I have often used to help me think through my next career steps is What Colour Is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles, available from most good bookshops. What is important is to decide what you want to do, and how much you are prepared to commit to achieving your ambitions. Remember, "we are limited only by the poverty of our aspirations".

l If you have a work problem and want expert advice, write to Carmen Fielding, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182; e-mail c.fielding@independent.co.uk

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