Secretary Clinton can help us all become 'untired'

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We don't yet know what big challenge Hillary Clinton will take on next, but that she will bring her considerable talents to something big and 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 enormous consequences for our health, on our health care system, on our families and our children, and on our economy. And it makes it much 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, her ability, her drive, her willingness to burn the candle at both ends, Hillary Clinton is in a singular position to change this. She's proven that women can do anything, and now she can prove that women can do anything differently -- and better.

Certainly, she's well acquainted with the problem -- perhaps more so than anybody on earth -- having flown more than 900,000 miles to 112 countries and, possibly even more taxing, having 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."

And maybe I'm dreaming, but 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 both be untired and successful.

Who better to lead the redefining success charge? "She's the most important woman in America," writes Michael Tomasky in Newsweek. "More: she is almost certainly the most important woman in all of our political history." For an entire generation, she' s been the foremost example of the successful woman. "In the 20 years she's been on the stage," writes Tomasky, "the country has gone from wondering whether women could handle the toughest jobs to knowing they can."

The question that remains is: what is the price we pay for handling the toughest jobs? 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 -- both inner and outer. 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 even higher, given the role stress plays in conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. More than 25 million Americans have diabetes, and nearly 70 million have had high blood pressure, which makes them four times as likely to die from strokes and three times as likely to contract heart disease.

And being "overtired" doesn't just affect our health, but our decisions. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School concluded that lack of sleep was a "significant factor" or played a "critical role" in the Exxon Valdez accident, the Challenger space shuttle explosion and the nuclear accidents at both 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 last week, the outgoing secretary of state 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. We do need a new architecture. The old ways of doing things have broken down. Hillary Clinton was talking about foreign policy, but the architecture of how we live our lives is also badly in need of some new materials and structures. Which is why I hope that after unplugging, recharging, getting some sleep and becoming "untired," Hillary 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 president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is arianna@huffingtonpost.com.)

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Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

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