Ten lessons from Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices

Hillary Clinton wants to be leader of the free world. Her new book, Hard Choices at 600 pages, is possibly the longest job application in history. The book has been criticised for being boring.  Critics wanted more of the deeply personal stuff and the gossip, one even whining she had to wade through 10 pages on Asia to get to Hillary raving about being mother-of-the-bride at Chelsea’s wedding. But if you do like things in short form, don’t have time for a tome, or detailed foreign policy isn’t your style … relax. I’ve read Hard Choices for you. 

Here are 10 lessons we can learn from Hillary Clinton.

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This is a book about how Hillary ran the world while Obama ran America. Almost. From negotiating about elections in Afghanistan to visiting a US funded paediatric HIV/AIDs centre in Zaire, from the expansion of China to the implosion of Syria, Hillary is in the thick of it and on top of it. Her manifesto is dense and detailed but there is absolutely no room for false modesty.

Be tough

Clinton’s book is about her showing she can make hard decisions and sells her as more hawkish on foreign policy than Obama. 

But that’s not the fortitude I’m talking about.  Hillary took the job after picking herself up from the pain and heartache of losing the Democratic nomination to Obama.  She had to swallow her pride and work for the man.  Her success is driven by her intellect but also by the fact she is strong, dogged and self-disciplined.

Be energetic

One of the concerns about Hillary running for President is that, by election time, she’ll be 69 and too old.  But the woman is a machine. As Secretary of State (aged 61 to 65) she travelled nearly one million miles and visited 112 countries, breathing in 87 days of recycled air and clocking up chats with world leaders like a teenager clocks up hours on Instagram.  Clinton says she has the ability to sleep almost anywhere, anytime. She doesn’t discuss her fall and concussion in 2012, but it doesn’t seem to have stopped her.

Learn to take criticism and cope with the double standard

Hillary Clinton has three suggestions for coping with criticism. First, she suggests adopting Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to grow “skin as thick as a rhinoceros”.  Second, learn to take criticism seriously but not personally because your critics can actually teach you lessons your friends cannot. Her third suggestion concerning the persistent double standard applied to women in politics is that you just “can’t let it derail you. Smile and keep going.”

Interestingly one of the few mentions of Australia in her entire book concerns this double standard. She feels Julia Gillard “faced outrageous sexism, which shouldn’t be tolerated in any country.” 

Clinton has also managed to utter a phrase many politicians cannot.  "I was wrong".  She regrets voting to authorise war in Iraq in 2002.  But she won’t concede to any failures in protecting the American embassy in Benghazi when the US Ambassador to Libya and three others were killed on 11th September, 2012.

Don’t gossip and learn to keep a secret

As I said, Hillary doesn’t gossip in the book.  She tells the story of being a US Diplomat in diplomatic language, but it’s easy to read between the lines.  For instance, it’s clear she loves former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband but not so much Prime Minister David Cameron.  She’s admiring yet not in love with Angela Merkel and sees Nicholas Sarkozy as rather erratically and emotionally French.  Hillary doesn’t mince words on Vladimir Putin who she describes as “thin skinned and autocratic”.  The macho Russian leader has already responded,  “It’s better not to argue with women. But Mrs Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements.”

Regarding secrets, Hillary reveals in the book that when Osama Bin Laden was found and killed, President Obama rang the living former Presidents. He said to Bill “I assume Hillary’s already told you …” But she hadn’t.  If Hillary can keep a secret as big as that from her husband, she’s a rock. Respect.

See the ridiculousness in life

Some of Clinton’s critics say she lacks a sense of humour. I have seen her speak in Sydney and while she has a lightness of touch, she’s no stand up comedian. But while the jokes in her book are a bit lame, she can laugh at the stupidity of some of the crap written about her regarding her scrunchies, her hair and her pantsuits. She invited the instigators of the meme ‘Texts from Hillary’ in for a photo session of them checking their phones in unison. 

Think of other women less fortunate than yourself

Hillary Clinton reveals many world leaders eyes actually glazed over whenever she raised women’s rights. Yet she set out to make opportunities for women and girls part of diplomacy and development work.  Clinton reveals she rang Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai three times in two days urging him to revoke a law legalising marital rape and that she also told the Saudis to “fix” a case where an 8 year old girl was being forced to marry a 50 year old man.

Be pragmatic

Clinton describes herself as an idealist and a realist, yet she shows herself to be a pragmatist.  Playing softball taught her that if you only go for home runs you often get out but if you go for singles and doubles and even walks it can add up to something bigger.  It’s clear this attitude gives her optimism and a spirit that doesn't buckle at the enormity of a task.

Have friends that inspire you

Hillary is clearly captivated, moved and enhanced by her friendships.  She’s also a hell of a name-dropper.

She and Aung San Suii Kyi hug while catching up in each others’ kitchens and give each other gifts like a doggy chew toys and jewellery. Nelson Mandela taught her how to “grit your teeth and work with former enemies” and would often ring for a chat with her and Chelsea.  Hillary also played piano with Bono. It's clear she also attracts brilliant staff around her and no doubt works them to the bone.

Develop resilience

Perhaps Hillary Clinton’s biggest lesson for all of us is resilience. Clinton’s mother had a terrible, neglected childhood and she taught her daughter “no matter how many times she got knocked down a hundred times what matters is you get back up”.  Reading Hard Choices it’s impossible not to respect and admire her ability to take on the world. 

Towards the end of the book, Hillary quotes one of her heroes, former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt “A woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water”. 

1 comment so far

  • Hillary is magnificent. If she runs I don't think the Republicans have anyone who can touch her. "Bring it on"

    Date and time
    June 17, 2014, 7:32AM

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