You're one of the most famous women on earth and you're jobless for the first time in decades. You'd like to make money, but you don't want to rule out running for president. So what do you do all day? Right now, aides and friends say, Hillary Rodham Clinton's plan looks like this: Exit the State Department shortly after Inauguration Day, and then seclude herself to rest and reflect on what she wants to do for the next few years.
Those who have invited her for 2013 engagements have been told not to even ask again until April or May.
She and her husband would like to buy a house in the Hamptons or upstate New York, several friends said, and Hillary Clinton will finally have more time for everyday activities like exercise (last summer, between world crises, she was squeezing in 6 a.m. sessions at a pool with a trainer).
She is likely to use her husband's foundation as at least a temporary perch, several former aides said, and she has been mulling a new book not a painful examination of her failed 2008 presidential bid, as she once proposed, but a more upbeat look at her time as secretary of state.
For the moment, Clinton may appear to be a figure of nearly limitless possibility, and her name has come up for prestigious jobs: president of Yale University, head of George Soros' foundation.
But being Hillary Clinton is never a simple matter, and her next few years are less a blank check than an equation with multiple variables. Her status is singular but complicated: half an ex-presidential partnership, a woman at the peak of her influence who will soon find herself without portfolio, and an instant presidential front-runner (a title that did not work out well last time).
"If you're thinking about running for president, does that affect everything else?" asked former Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York, who once agonized over the same choice, and whose son Gov. Andrew Cuomo may find his own prospects shaped by what Clinton decides. "Yes. Once you make your decision, everything clears up."
Still, Clinton faces some immediate choices, which nearly two dozen current and former aides, friends and donors described:
Should she team up with her husband again? Last summer, Bill Clinton expressed doubt about whether his wife would join forces with him at the foundation that bears his name. "It might be better for her and she might have a bigger impact if she has a separate operation," he said.
The question is a fraught one. The climactic moment of Hillary Clinton's career came in 2000, when after years of supporting her husband's campaigns and jobs, she struck out as a solo artist. Would rejoining his team be a step backward? Many aides said no: "She's revered and admired as her own person," said Lissa Muscatine, her longtime adviser.
Should she do what she wants or what makes the most political sense? Of all of the issues Clinton has worked on over the years, the one nearest her heart is improving the status of women and children around the world. As first lady of Arkansas, she brought Dr. Muhammad Yunus, later a Nobel Peace Prize winner, to set up a microlending program there. She turned her tenure as secretary of state into a sustained argument that women's welfare is central to security and economic stability, championing projects like milk cooperatives in Malawi and support networks for self-employed women in India. Now her desire is to be "a professional advocate," as her daughter put it to a reporter.
Aides say that Clinton drew a lesson from her 2008 run: she believes that the country approves of her, and of female candidates in general, when they appear to be serving others rather than seeking power out of personal ambition. By that logic, Clinton's interest in helping poor women around the world would not hurt her politically in 2016 and might add to her current politician-above-politics luster.
What is the most dignified way for her to make money? Being a Clinton is expensive, and when the former secretary leaves office, she'll want staff and the ability to travel on private planes, friends say. The Clintons who own expensive homes in Washington and Chappaqua, N.Y. love renting in the Hamptons during the summer, according to friends, and buying their own home there could easily run well into the seven figures. Though friends say Hillary Clinton could easily make a lot of money at a law firm, or a private equity firm, none of those pursuits would be likely to wear well in a presidential campaign.
Instead, Clinton is expected to take on lucrative speaking engagements maybe even joint speeches with her husband, which could command record prices.
How should she navigate the nonstop speculation about 2016? For her last presidential run, Clinton declared her candidacy nearly two years before Election Day but the timing didn't feel right to her, because it made the race endless, say ex-aides who hint she would wait much longer if she made a bid again.
The enormously disciplined Clinton has stuck to the same story in public and private: She's not running.
Those close to her emphasize that no one knows otherwise, not even Clinton herself.
"Be very wary of those pretending to bear actual knowledge," said Philippe Reines, her State Department spokesman.