A Million Parts

Shlesha Van
7 min readJul 3, 2021

Living 6346 miles away from home, hoping from country to country — aircrafts are my second home. The flight attendant who warms you with a smile during an exhausting 3am night shift; That grumpy officer who checks your face 100 times to make sure it matches with your passport; to that absolute stranger who volunteers to share their entire life story with you, and impart you with a new set of eyes to the world. The journey of flying across oceans and over the clouds is a almost magical process. It teaches you about the raw breadth and magnitude of human nature.

But in the mist of these interactions, you start staring out the window, at these fleet of aircrafts, from different shapes, sizes, logos, flags, and you wonder, ‘Why does this even work? How?’.

An aircraft is built with over a million parts, cockpit, fuselage, rudder, slats and many more. Each system is designed such that from expansion of a single screw at 35,000 ft to formation of millimeters of ice on slats, every detail is meticulously accounted for. Simulations, bench tests and flight tests, are namely just a few layers of tests that each piece of the million parts have to go through. With such meticulousness, it takes minimum of 5 years to design an aircraft. With hundreds of thousands of employees around the world, countless certifications are made. Several layers of expertise, often with 20–30 years of engineering relevant aerospace experience, review each every single design component. It is a rigid and brutally process oriented industry. Yet, a single lapse in judgement would cost 100s of lives.

This is exactly what happened with Boeing 737 crash. A simple design change and a harmless software update intended to automate systems and make flight control process easier, instead led to 2 deadly crashes and 346 deaths. Every single Boeing 737 Max flight in the entire world was grounded. Billions of dollars were lost by airlines across the globe, in addition to the impact of the pandemic. It shook the entire the industry.

Taking a moment to reflect upon this catastrophe, it makes me realise that the evolution of both products and people ironically takes the same path — through failure.

Thus, global industry responded with every capable federal system re-evaluating their processes. Two years from the incident, corporate cultural, federal relationships, hierarchy, lateral communication, employee stress levels, audit frequencies, data automation and many more changes are still actively being implemented. This event has led the rigid aviation industry culture to become more reflective and respond with agility and efficiency.

But, how does this connect to me?

Moving out at 18, starting over in a new country and holding onto a naïve excitement of living away from parents, my evolution over last 4 years was similar to the Boeing crash — a nose dive into failure. Cultural shock, identity, bills, housing, rent, travel, transport, first visit to the bank, first credit card, friendships, meaningful friendships, new education system, immigration… aaand it quickly spiraled into a million parts. ‘Well, welcome to adulthood’, I thought to myself.

Right before the pandemic hit, while attempting to run through the spiral, I was starting to explore another twist of fate, the pursuit of entrepreneurship. Quite honestly, it was an idea I was passionate about. I thought the gap was unbelievably simple and yet unsolved. Almost like a crack in the ground or the enamel. But I will leave that story to another time. For today, this meant a new spiral to navigate through. Let’s call it, Spiral B — Flashy accelerators, golden ticket startup books and scrolling through feeds of LinkedIn posts where almost everybody had found the Midas touch.

It felt like a chaos. With so many external factors changing and telling you what you should be doing with your time, I felt the need to be pulled in so many different directions and get involved in 100 different activities only feel like everything I was doing was barely suffice.

But when the pandemic hit, things changed. Suddenly, there were no events and no people. Rather than trying to run through the spirals, I had excess time to sit back, be with myself, read, reflect, identify my unconscious thought patterns and redefine what everything meant to me. Gradually, the spirals unwinded, my close circles changed and I felt more grounded than ever.

However, during this phase of rejuvenation, I came to realise this-

In our part of the world, in Canada, ‘The West’, we are thrown into a pool of SO MUCH information and SO MANY opportunities that the path to success is almost given. Unlike developing parts of the world, we don’t have to build doors. Yet, the truth is, many of us, like myself, are lost in this spiral overload of information on who we are, what we should be doing and all the external factors put us in the spotlight where we seek social validation to feel valued. Get into flashy accelerators, have overqualified board members, fund raise without a product and many more unrealistic cultural trends that don’t necessarily lead us towards efficiency and efficacy.

So the question now is,

“How do you navigate through a world in which there are a million opportunities on who you can be and what you could do?”

To me, I have come to realise a solution in 3 steps:

1. Filter out the noise.

While you are being pulled in a million different directions, ask yourself, ‘Why are am I doing this?’, ‘Does this make me happy?’ and ‘Is this who I want to be in 5 years time?’.

While these may sound cliché, over the past year, I learnt that very few people take a moment to reason behind why they are aiming for certain things and even fewer people are truly in touch with who they are.

2. Take just 10 minutes to reflect everyday.

You are the most niche person to your identity, your values and your life experiences. Take advantage of that to stand out, thread a line between internal and external factors that define you and don’t worry about sharing the ‘right’ story, worry about sharing the authentic story.

Someone who finds calm in soldering a circuit board for hours and someone who seeks adrenaline of rock climbing on a sunny day could both be introverts. But, while one seeks solitude, the other seeks freedom and expression.

3. Its okay to not want what everybody wants.

When you are surround by a group of people who are all achieving the same things, it is so easy to feel the FOMO to not doing the same thing. But that’s totally okay. If you don’t see the value, don’t do it.

This realisation during the pandemic has allowed me to become significantly more intentional with my actions. It is with these intentions I applied to the Cansbridge community. During the time of the application, I was back home reconciling with my family in Ghana and as I was preparing to come back to Canada, I realised that instead of flashy pursuits of achievements, I was looking to connect and evolve within a community of people who were passionate about what they do.

Over the last few months, I have met some of the most amazing friends and inspiring people all within one group. The pandemic and virtual bubble made it significantly difficult to meet new people and connect with the whole community. But I was super lucky to have Mathurah, who lived just a street across, to go on random Montreal explorations or hikes with! Dolma, with whom I could spontaneously make a call at 8pm to share about a random Founder-frustration and eventually end up talking about domain names and IP, and finally Evan who totally blew my mind about the world of VC and fundraising.

Of course, I want to thank fellows, Zach, Alex, Victor, Nikita, Chris, Rakan, and Lynn who took the time of the day to hop on calls with me to share their different journeys, insights and experiences.

I am excited to see how I evolve and contribute within this community. So, to wrap up my thoughts, it is not about the million parts that make an aircraft work, it is that one or two systems/habits that you do so right that it will fuel the flight. For me, it been about starting to cut out the noise.

Special thanks to

William for organising and Founding the Cansbridge Fellowship.

Max and Avkash for being part of the Onboarding Community.

Newton for hosting awesome events.