We don't yet know what challenge Hillary Clinton will take on next, but that she will bring her considerable talents to something worthwhile is not in question.
Whether or not that challenge is trying to become the first woman president, she's in a unique position to help redefine success by using her experience to address the issue of stress in the workplace.
Lack of sleep, overwork and burnout are defining features of America's business and political culture. They're not just endemic in corporate suites and the corridors of power — they're often the standard on which professional advancement is based. This has consequences for our health, on our health care system, on our families and on our economy. And it makes it harder to produce leaders capable of making good decisions.
Having accomplished so much, and having done it in such a way that causes nobody to question her work ethic, ability, drive and willingness to burn the candle at both ends, Clinton is in a singular position to change this. Certainly she's well acquainted with the problem — perhaps more so than anybody else, having flown more than 900,000 miles to 112 countries and sat in 1,700 meetings with world leaders during her tenure as secretary of state.
"I hope I get to sleep in," she told ABC's Cynthia McFadden about her upcoming plans. "It will be the first time in many years. I have no office to go to, no schedule to keep, no work to do." And here's how she put it to The New York Times' Gail Collins: "I just want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun. And relax. It sounds so ordinary, but I haven't done it for 20 years. I would like to see whether I can get untired." The world needs Hillary not only to get herself "untired," but in the next chapter of her life to become a role model for the idea that one can be both untired and successful.
Who better to lead the redefining success charge? "In the 20 years she's been on the stage," writes Michael Tomasky in Newsweek, "the country has gone from wondering whether women could handle the toughest jobs to knowing they can." But what is the price we pay? In an interview with Marie Claire magazine, Clinton spoke about at least one part of the problem. "It's important for our workplaces ... to be more flexible and creative in enabling women to continue to do high-stress jobs while caring for not only children, but (also) aging parents."
But the problem goes way beyond just how the workplace is formally structured. It's about how we structure our lives, formally and informally. According to the World Health Organization, stress costs American businesses an estimated $300 billion a year. And the costs to our health care system might be higher, given the role stress plays in heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
And being "overtired" also affects our decisions. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School concluded that lack of sleep was a "significant factor" in the Exxon Valdez accident, the Challenger space shuttle explosion and nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. "Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our ability to access higher-level cognitive functions," report the Harvard sleep doctors. "The combination of these factors is what we generally refer to as mental performance."
In a farewell speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Clinton said: "We need a new architecture for this new world; more Frank Gehry than formal Greek. Think of it. Now, some of his work at first might appear haphazard, but in fact, it's highly intentional and sophisticated. Where once a few strong columns could hold up the weight of the world, today we need a dynamic mix of materials and structures."
As a Greek, I should take offense. But it's actually an inspired thought. The old ways of doing things have broken down. Clinton was talking about foreign policy, but the architecture of how we live our lives is also in need of new materials and structures. Which is why I hope that after becoming "untired," she will return to public life and bring with her a new blueprint for employing those values. If so, there's no ceiling on what she could accomplish for women — and yes, for men, too.
Arianna Huffington is founder of The Huffington Post; firstname.lastname@example.org.