Some readers may not be aware of it, but on November 10, I was in a very serious automobile accident, which shattered my right forearm and broke my left arm right next to the elbow. As a result, I had a couple of months out of commission, which has given me the time and mental space to think things through.

One thing I puzzled out was this notion of essential business skills that lie at the heart of any business or career. I've decided that the most essential skill is something that takes place in your mind almost instantaneously: deciding to ask for the close.

Before I explain why this skill is so important, I need to define the term "close." In sales, the "close" is when you ask for the business, as in "So we're going forward, right?" or, traditionally, "Sign here on the dotted line." In the larger sense, a "close" is whenever you ask for any decision that sharply affects you, your career, or your company.

Regardless of the words you use to close (there's a lot of lore in the sales world about this), the real skill is your internal, emotional decision to ask. This is easy when there's not much at stake, but when something is important, most people would rather hold onto the fantasy of being successful than risk being a failure or being seen as one.

I knew a writer who had written two novels but never got up the courage to send them to a publisher or a literary agent, because as long as she never got a rejection she could pretend that she would someday be a bestselling author. Similarly, many people assume that they're going to get a raise or a promotion, and don't ask, because they're afraid if they ask the answer may be "nope."

Here's the truth though: The only real failure is the failure to ask for the decision. So, here's the rule that I've used for the past two decades: if I'm afraid to ask, I must ask. If I'm afraid of failing, then I must put it to the test. As a result, I've opened up opportunities that are far greater than any that I originally imagined.