‘Am I Good Enough To Be Here?’ MasterChef’s Minoli De Silva Shares How She Deals With Her Imposter Syndrome
I recently found some of my old Barbie dolls in storage. I noticed they were all platinum blonde or brunette, blue-eyed, fair-skinned and looked identical (manufacturing wasn’t as advanced in those days).
These dolls had the dream house, the flashy cars and all the careers I could imagine as a kid. I loved them so much, but as I inspected them 30 years later, I realised that there was zero diversity in this collection, and consequently in my make-believe stories playing ‘house’.
However, even as a kid I never stopped and thought, "Why don’t any of them look like me?" I just accepted it.
As I stepped into my teenage years, I started to play around with makeup. I bought the closest foundation shade to my skin tone, albeit a few shades darker and an undertone that made no sense, but I decided it would have to do. As confused as I was paying at the counter, I never stopped and thought, "Why couldn’t they make a shade in my tone?" I just accepted it.
At home with my parents, Sri Lankan tele-dramas would play in the background as I cooked. I'd joke with them that the women always played the role of the housewife or jealous girlfriend, but never the accomplished business lady or powerful single woman. They also always seemed to be yelling.
It didn’t occur to me at the time that the shows my parents were consuming were setting an inequitable precedent for how South Asian women would be treated in modern Australian society. These tele-drama women were always portrayed as the cooks or nurturers, worked overtime at home with kids, but notably, always lost the argument if the husband raised his voice. And the same storyline just kept repeating. Society seemed to accept it; so, I did too.
And just like that, many moments have passed throughout my life where I've subconsciously felt unseen. It's the idea that the voice of a woman was less than the rest. It was almost as if there wasn’t a place for someone like me in the Australian public eye. Growing up, none of my friends, let alone my POC (people of colour) friends ever spoke about it, so I just accepted it.
As I entered the corporate engineering world, I worked under a strong female manager. It was the first time that I had seen a woman be uncompromising in her ability to manage a diverse team. She was a Caucasian project manager of a prominent Australian business, who never underestimated her own ability, and was an advocate for other women in business. She grabbed every opportunity by the horns and just ran with it.
I heard many people laugh about how ‘bossy’ she was and heard some people question her femininity and sexual orientation 'in jest’ because of her strong workplace presence. Despite the toxic work culture, how did she have the confidence? I was amazed by her. I wanted to know what that felt like. I wanted the responsibility, the opportunity and the job satisfaction, but that niggling voice in my head filled me with self-doubt.
On paper I knew should be able to do what she did, but I felt under-qualified and in over my head. When the time came to apply for her role, I considered it, however, I ended up continuing in my own role until I outgrew it and moved on.
The self-doubt, the hesitation to take on senior roles, the second-guessing your judgement — it’s more commonly referred to as ‘Imposter Syndrome’. To make it more tangible, I’ve given that feeling of self-doubt its own name. Everyone, meet ‘Maurice, the self-sabotaging lizard’. He doesn’t visit very often but when he pops in unannounced, I’m prepared.
It wasn’t until I moved to Darwin, actively silencing Maurice, that I started to finally believe in myself. I started focusing on strengths training and took part in a leadership acceleration program that showed me I wasn’t alone in my way of thinking. A simple shift in mindset led me to apply for MasterChef Australia (after a bit of convincing from a friend).
Even after 2 eliminations in season 13, I was invited back on Masterchef for the Fans & Favourites season, competing alongside some of the best contestants ever seen on the show. I’ve been cooking since I was seven, I've always had an affinity for all things food, I've regularly had incredible dinner parties for friends, and yet, I still doubted my ability.
Fast forward to the present moment where I have a new restaurant with an epic team, a healthy workplace culture, and have been lucky enough to compete with past Masterchef winners like Sashi Cheliah, Julie Goodwin and Billie McKay, all the while, wondering why I still have the crippling thought, "Am I good enough to be here?"
When you grow up in a society where no one looks like you in the media, in your classroom or in your close friendship group, the idea cements itself that there must be a reason for that. To this day, I must actively tell myself that I deserve to be where I am, and it’s not unusual for a POC like me to work hard and have a good life.
Though self-doubt might still be commonplace, it’s good to know that I now have the power to tell the self-sabotaging lizard to fuck right off.