Retiring at 31: The Unconventional Path of Ashish Kumar

In the bustling city-state of Singapore, where the skyline is as ambitious as its workforce, the story of Ashish Kumar broke the Internet (at least in the personal finance community in Singapore, it seems) as he challenged the norms that many of us live by. At the age of 31, Ashish made a decision that turned heads and sparked conversations: he chose to retire early, stepping down from his senior role at the Ministry of Communications and Information.

This decision wasn’t born out of fatigue or burnout but from a deep-seated desire for something more, something beyond the accolades and achievements that had defined his early life. Ashish has an admirable academic achievement:

  • A top scorer in Singapore’s rigorous Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE),
  • Enrolling in one of the top schools in Singapore, Raffles Institution,
  • Received an Overseas Merit Scholarship with his A Level Results, and
  • Graduated second in his class with a law degree from the University of Cambridge.

After which, he returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to serve his six-year bond. Ashish’s academic and professional journey seemed predestined for greatness in the eyes of many. Yet, he chose to pursue personal fulfilment over societal expectations. Ashish’s story raises poignant questions about the very fabric of success we’ve been woven into. It’s a narrative that beckons us to look beyond the surface, and decide for ourselves what truly matters in our life.

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The Quest for Fulfilment Beyond Traditional Careers

Ashish Kumar’s early retirement is not just a personal choice but a poignant commentary on the modern work culture and the pursuit of fulfilment. His journey prompts us to reconsider the true essence of success and happiness in our lives.

When did we start thinking equating success with having material things like cars and real estate? Why did we think of success in this way?

Even in the personal finance community, the “Retirement Police” are questioning if Ashish is really retired, whether the money he has saved from his short career is sufficient for retirement, or if this is actually more of a career break than an early retirement. Some even questioned that having a home of his own and the eventual consequence of getting married and having children would derail his early retirement. These are all examples of labels of societal norms that the society sticks on us and expects us to deliver.

But why should these labels even matter?

Ashish’s decision to step away from his high-ranking role challenges the conventional definition of success that both the government, mainstream media and society often imposes on us. His story serves as a catalyst for a broader discussion on how we measure our lives’ worth. Unlike the traditional career trajectory aimed at climbing the corporate ladder, Ashish sought contentment and fulfilment beyond the accolades and financial rewards.

As I get older, I started leaning towards the belief that success is not a one-size-fits-all concept. For Ashish, finding joy in simpler, non-materialistic pursuits became his version of success. He prioritises the ability to travel overseas for hikes and participate in the debating community as these activities keep him happy. Ashish’s story encourages us to question what truly brings us joy and fulfillment. It’s a reminder that sometimes, stepping off the beaten path can lead to more enriching and satisfying experiences. Whether it’s dedicating time to hobbies, personal development, or spending time with loved ones, it is important to recognise the significance of cultivating a life that feels meaningful on a personal level.

If we agree that personal finance is personal and different for everyone, why can’t we think of success in the same way and create our own definitions of success?

By creating our own definitions of success, we are taking steps to aligning our career paths and life choices with our deepest values and passions, rather than external expectations or societal benchmarks.

Planning for Early Retirement and Financial Independence

Achieving early retirement is a dream for many, but it’s a reality for those who plan meticulously and adhere to disciplined financial practices. Ashish Kumar’s journey to early retirement likely involved key strategies centered around saving, investing, and living frugally to build a substantial nest egg that could support his lifestyle.

Aggressive Saving and Investing

The cornerstone of early retirement planning involves saving a significant portion of one’s income and investing it wisely. For someone like Ashish, this could mean saving upwards of 80% of his income, given that he defines some of his largest expenses as “two expeditions to Uniqlo” each year. He invests in what he calls, “a boring diversified portfolio” to generate compound growth over time.

Living Below One’s Means

Financial independence requires a keen focus on living expenses. Ashish’s ability to retire early was likely predicated on his ability to keep his living expenses significantly lower than his income, allowing him to save and invest the surplus. As he had a scholarship to study overseas in a prestigious (and expensive) university, he entered the workforce without any financial liabilities. He also chooses to continue to stay with his parents in their home and does not intend to make what he calls, “catastrophic financial decisions” like getting married and having children. This goes to show that he has been making conscious choices about spending, prioritising value and long-term happiness over immediate gratification.

Ashish Kumar’s early retirement is a testament to the power of financial planning, discipline, and the pursuit of personal fulfilment over traditional career paths. His story inspires others to consider what they truly value in life and how they can achieve their own version of financial independence and happiness.

Impact on Society and Work Culture

Ashish Kumar’s choice to retire early and the broader discourse on work-life balance illuminate significant shifts within Singapore’s work culture and societal values. These shifts reflect a growing awareness of the importance of personal well-being, a reassessment of traditional work norms, and an evolving definition of success. This is especially the case for the younger generation who are questioning the validity of a 44-hour work week in Singapore.

Singapore’s work culture is traditionally characterised by efficiency, dedication, and long hours, influenced by stringent workplace regulations and a blend of Western and Singaporean business practices. However, the narrative around work (especially post-Covid) is changing, driven by a collective desire for a more balanced life, where personal time and well-being are given equal importance.

Companies are increasingly recognising the importance of employee engagement, diversity, continuous learning, and celebrating achievements. Attracting and retaining talents is going to take a lot more than free lunches and pizzas. They will need to double down on efforts to revolutionise workplace culture in Singapore to foster a strong workplace culture include understanding cultural nuances, making core values and mission relevant, empowering leadership, and promoting work-life balance.

The role of technology and the influence of Singapore’s economic dynamics further complicate the landscape. While technology has enabled remote work and greater flexibility, contributing positively to the work-life balance, it also blurs the lines between work and personal time, potentially leading to longer working hours.

While Singapore’s economic prosperity and competitive job market has a long history of placing a high value on productivity and efficiency, but there’s a growing acknowledgment that success and competitiveness can also be achieved with a focus on employee well-being and a supportive work environment. The future of Singapore’s workplace culture will need to lean towards a model that values the well-being of its workforce as much as it does productivity.

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