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Vumile Msweli: The Quest for Querencia

 Querencia is an abstract notion in the Spanish language. It is an internal space you find for yourself despite an external raging war.



The red cloth danced back and forth in the hands of an immaculately dressed matador. He tempted and enticed the enraged bull to charge, the scene forever a picture of power and danger. This is the Spanish sport of bullfighting.

I have often found that sports allow for metaphors we can learn from, so please indulge me as we analyse bullfighting.

Bullfighting is considered both an art and a sport. It can quickly result in death if a matador is unable to think on their feet, remain calm, study the every nuance of their opponent, all while remaining graceful in the face of fear.

The word is Querencia, and is derived from the Spanish verb “querer,” which translates “to desire.” For the purpose of our discussion, we will look at querencia in the context for bullfighting.

A bull may stake out his querencia, a certain part of the bull ring where he feels strong and safe. Querencia is an abstract notion in the Spanish language. It is an internal space you find for yourself despite an external raging war.

I first came across the concept of querencia in American author Ernest Hemingway‘s 1932 nonfiction book Death in the Afternoon. In the book, Hemingway eloquently describes the querencia as follows: “A querencia is a place the bull naturally wants to go to in the ring, a preferred locality … It is a place which develops in the course of the fight where the bull makes his home. It does not usually show at once, but develops in his brain as the fight goes on. In this place he feels that he has his back against the wall and in his querencia he is inestimably more dangerous and almost impossible to kill.”

It is in this space that the bull gathers his strength, self-soothes, and can garner its own resources to demolish any challenge that arises. I think Martin Schwitzner expands on Hemingway’s initial analysis. Schwitzner describes rather comprehensively the notion as follows: “There is a concept in bullfighting that is called querencia. This is an area that some bulls seek out as ‘their’ terrain and sometimes are hard to get out off. Generally bulls carry their jurisdiction, as in the territory they will defend against intruders/aggressors, with them, however bulls that are stuck in a querencia apply this behaviour to a static area. Often this is close to where the bull would have entered the ring or where another bull either defecated or died earlier in the afternoon. Other bulls might not necessarily want to stay or move towards their querencia but always feel a strong instinctive need to have free passage towards it. The matador will have to calculate this behaviour into his artistic intentions for his performance. A bull with a strong querencia might display shorter charges when lured to move into the opposite direction of his querencia. Bulls that are stuck in querencias can be extremely dangerous to the matador, as they will often stop and turn mid-charge. Especially during the kill this can lead to serious injuries for the Matador.”

It often seems we are in a constant pursuit of goals, like the bright red material tossed and twirled by a matador. We, like the bull, must find a corner inside our circumstances where there is comfort, strength, and we can strategically take down any challenge that tempts our insecurities.

Finding your querencia could be finding a board of directors for your career. People who can help guide you in your career, act as a valid sounding board so you don’t focus on the screaming crowds, pressure and challenges, but rather on what needs to happen for you to successfully overthrow fear.

Another way to find your querencia is by self talk. I am a firm believer that thoughts become things, and our thoughts start with our inner dialogue. How you talk to yourself during fear-inducing, insecurity-increasing, talent-stretching moments aids in how you come out of crisis mode.

The third technique, which has in recent times become popularised as mindfulness, is in essence consciously calming yourself through breathing, meditating and observation. These allow you to be calm, to see your circumstances objectively and not react out of emotion. These allow you to find your querencia; so, like the bull, you can charge forward to conquer.

As unexpected circumstances seem like a red cloth danced back and forth by a seemingly immaculately dressed matador, tempting and enticing you to be enraged, daring you to reach into enragement; and, like a bull, charge without much thought. Take the time to begin your quest for querencia. Confidently find your corner, calm yourself, gather your strength, consult your career board of directors, engage in constructive inner dialogue, breathe, formulate your winning strategy, and charge forth like a bull who comes from the querencia corner.

Vumi Msweli is a career coach, international speaker and the Chief Executive Officer of Hesed Consulting. Hesed is a consulting firm specializing in; career coaching; leadership acceleration, women empowerment; team dynamics; facilitation and training on the African continent. Vumile has worked in Europe; Asia and across the African continent.

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