Dec. 12, 2012 -- When Hillary Rodham Clinton steps down from her post as secretary of state as expected early next year her political career will have spanned over two decades. ABC's Barbara Walters sat down with the secretary to discuss just what makes the secretary so fascinating to so many people around the world, and what the cultural and political icon finds fascinating herself.
Clinton is by far the most popular official in the Obama administration, and is already the leading candidate should she choose to run for president again in 2016. So is this really goodbye for the former first lady, senator and secretary of state? Or will Hillary Clinton, who recently turned 65 years old, re-invent herself once again?
Clinton said that while "all doors are open" for her future, one thing is for certain: She is definitely leaving the cabinet as soon as a new secretary is sworn in and a smooth transition occurs.
"It sounds so simple, but I've been, as you know, at the highest levels of American and now international activities for twenty years, and I just thought it was time to take a step off… maybe do some reading and writing and speaking and teaching," said Clinton.
She told Walters that she doesn't have a plan for what she'll do immediately after leaving political life but that she wants to continue contributing to society in some way, perhaps in philanthropy or academia. But when pressed on whether that her future includes a widely-speculated 2016 run for president, Clinton maintains that she still does not plan to run.
"I've said I really don't believe that that's something I will do again," she said. "I am so grateful I had the experience of doing it before."
When pressed, however, the secretary does admit that if she did choose to run she would not be concerned about her age. Recently having turned 65, Clinton would be 77 years old if she were to be in office for two terms.
"I am, thankfully, knock on wood, not only healthy, but have incredible stamina and energy," she said. "I just want to see what else is out there. I've been doing, you know, this, this incredibly important and, and satisfying work here in Washington, as I say, for twenty years, I want to get out and spend some time looking at what else I can do to contribute."
Clinton's journey from first lady to senator to presidential candidate has taken her across the country and across the globe. But it's in the role as secretary of state that Clinton has racked up the most frequent flier miles, in fact more than any other Secretary of State in U.S. history. Clinton has traveled to 112 countries, and has spent the equivalent of a year of her life on a plane. She will likely hit the million mile mark before stepping down. And though staff and press half her age often have trouble keeping up with her, that type of schedule does take a toll, Clinton admits.
"Being on planes, as you know, as much as I am, takes something out of anybody, doesn't matter how old you are, or how often you've done it," she said. Clinton revealed she replenishes her energy by drinking a lot of water, trying to swim and do yoga when time permits and regulate her sleep. Her abnormal schedule is also behind one of the most talked about subjects throughout her political career – her hair.
It's longer than it has been previously, and that, says Clinton, is by design. "I do not travel with any hairdresser, or anybody, to help me do that, and I'm not very competent myself. I've been admitting that for years, which should be obvious to everyone," Clinton joked. "And so it became simpler to just grow it so that I can pull it back, and I can stick rollers in," said Clinton calling the conversation "girl talk" between her and Walters.
Rather than being annoyed by all the talk about her hair and appearance Clinton said she finds it amusing.
"It's fascinating to me how people are so curious about it. Because after a while, it just got to be really burdensome to try to find a hairdresser in some city, somewhere, oftentimes not being able to speak English, that at least I could communicate with," she told Walters. "So, I said enough, we're just going to try to go with as simple as possible."
But regardless of whatever inconveniences that come with being America's top diplomat, Clinton said she's relished the job.
"I've been very fortunate, because I had the chance to travel as much, and work as hard here at home on behalf of my country, which is a great honor, and the president, and everything we care about," she said.
Her darkest moment as Secretary of State happened this year when terrorists in Libya attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11th, killing four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Clinton calls the attack the "worst time" in her tenure.
"It's something that is certainly terrible," she said. "We take risks in the work we do. The people who do this work, are often in very threatening environments, whether it's our military or our civilian people around the world, I have just the most extraordinary admiration for them."
Clinton, who knew Stevens personally, has repeatedly said that no-one wants to find out what happened in Benghazi more than she does. The results from an internal State Department investigation are expected to be released soon.
Clinton said she is leaving the office feeling immensely proud of what has been accomplished over the last four years.
"When I became secretary, when the president took office, we were in the midst of a terrible economic downturn, but we also were experiencing some very negative attitudes toward our country. People were questioning whether we had the values and principles that had always exemplified America, whether we had the staying power, the economic power to remain the indisputable, indispensable leader that the world needs from us," said Clinton. "I don't think there's any doubt now, and we have gone through enormous difficult changes, but I think everyone knows that the United States and our leadership is to be counted on."
Tune in for "Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2012" on December 12 at 9:30 P.M. EST on ABC.