Right now, aides and friends say, Hillary Rodham Clinton's plan looks like this: Exit the State Department by Inauguration Day, 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 ask again until April or May. She and her husband would like to buy a house in the Hamptons or upstate New York, friends said. And she will finally have more time for such everyday activities as exercise (between world crises, she has been 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, former aides said, and she has been mulling a new book -- not a painful examination of her failed 2008 bid, as she once proposed, but a more upbeat look at her time as secretary of state. For the moment, she may appear to be a figure of nearly limitless possibility, and her name has come up for prestigious jobs: president of Yale, head of George Soros' foundation.
But being Hillary Clinton is never a simple matter. "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 prospects shaped by what she decides.
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? Bill Clinton expressed doubt last summer about whether his wife would join forces with him at the foundation that bears his name. "She has to decide what's best for her," he said. The question is a fraught one. The climactic moment of her career came in 2000, when after years of supporting her husband's career, 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 adviser Lissa Muscatine.
• Should she do what she wants or what makes the most political sense? Of all of the issues she has worked on over the years, the one nearest her heart is improving the status of women and children. Now her desire is to be "a professional advocate," as her daughter, Chelsea, put it. But even if she returns full time to her activist feminist roots, it is not yet clear where she would begin. Nor is a campaign for, say, safer cookstoves in China the obvious way to win over voters in Iowa.
• What is the most dignified way to make money? Being a Clinton is expensive. The Clintons -- who own homes in Washington and Chappaqua, N.Y. -- love renting in the Hamptons during the summer, friends said, and buying their own could run into the seven figures. Though advisers say she could easily make a lot of money at a law firm, advising foreign countries, or at an investment bank, none of those pursuits would be likely to wear well in a presidential campaign. Instead, Clinton is expected to take on lucrative speaking engagements and write one or more books.
• How should she navigate the speculation about 2016? She has stuck to the same story in public and private: She's not running. But some close to her emphasize that no one knows otherwise -- not even Clinton herself.