I remember reading The Outsider in the summer of 1978, and realising that all of the 'Great Men' surveyed in that book were - at least according to Colin Wilson's exacting criteria - A Failure.
That is, Wilson argued that their lives - when viewed overall and by the highest standards - had failed to a greater or lesser degree.
I vacillated about this matter, through the years. Sometimes I felt that most people had a successful life when judged by appropriate criteria, sometimes I felt that very few did; and nowadays I would say that hardly anybody does.
In essence: everybody is a failure, every life is a failure.
This has been perhaps more evident to me than to most people; since a pretty large number of people I have known or worked with have been very successful - by the usual, mainstream standards with which such things are measured.
I, on the other hand, have not! - although I have been fairly-widely notorious from time to time, in my professional circles (which is, for example, presumably why I have a Wikipedia page). At times I too sought mainstream success, and got some way up the slippery pole; but I was always sabotaged either by my scruples or my defects, or both. Mostly I tried to plough my own unique furrow, sui generis; and again succeeded for periods of time.
But I have seen success from both sides in my own life, and in the lives of friends and colleagues - and have felt compelled to make evaluations on the subject.
It has, in fact, been one of the most painful experiences of my life to observe the corruption of so many people I have known. (This has, indeed, accelerated in 2020.)
Sometimes people were like that from the beginning - and were strategic in their esteem-seeking; sometimes they sold-out at a specific point, over a specific issue -- But mostly the process seems to have occured smoothly and seamlessly (with no discernible struggle) as a consequence of doing what was needed for jobs, promotions, money, status etc - or just through hard-work combined with obedience to authority.
One of the most startling observations is that all, and I mean all, of the people who I knew as a young man that were notably cynical or radical (in a leftish way) about class, money, status, professionalism, croneyism, careerism, honours or The Establishment - have ended up as high-level bureaucrats: as managers.
This seems an interesting and significant phenomenon; although I have not properly analysed it.
The only reference to this I have come across was in a book (Critique of Cynical Reason, 1983) by the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk; when he termed this mind-set enlightened false consciousness - which I take to mean something like being cynical about being cynical, in such a way as to retain self-esteem while selling-out.
Or perhaps it is adopting a false careerist persona while acknowledging its falseness, while also regarding the whole thing as somehow inevitable. This strikes me as typical of the most successful Establishment characters.
Certainly, once a person has got-into this mind-set, it is rare from them ever to get out from it; since he is cynical about anything that might disturb his selfish well being, while feeling morally superior for explicitly acknowledging his own selfishness.
A wry smile and a shrug of the shoulders restores the sealed-off equilibrium in the face of any challenge.
When I was a young adult, it was my firm intention to buck the trend of Wilson's Outsiders; and to be one of the tiny minority who really succeeded in having a genuinely successful Life.
I would have to regard this as a fundamental error. Because I now regard mortal human life as just not being designed to be 'a success' (whatever that might mean). Life is not aimed at some end-state of success.
Especially since it seems very obvious that we as individual people, and the world itself, are not susceptible of perfection (whatever that might mean). For a start, once I get to know people, no two are alike - indeed no two people are genuinely similar!
Similarity is an illusion of ignorance.
So, if we are all one-off, then the concept of 'success' already seems dubious; since there seems no objective way of measuring it. Yet, we can objectively fail - and I regard corruption of the kind I described earlier as genuine failure.
Corruption is a failure - not because of what is is, some much as because of where it leads-to.
The real success or failure of life seems to be related to what happens after death, and to what we learn through living.
1. Do we choose Heaven after death?
2. Do we learn from our experiences in ways that are relevant to eternal resurrected life?
The corruption that has so dismayed me does so because, by my judgment, it is associated with a refusal to learn from living; and with what seems to be an anti-salvation attitude; an attitude of rooted and vehement hostility towards, and therefore rejection of, the possibility of resurrected eternal life in Heaven.
While I know that repentance is possible to anyone at any time, in the sense that it is allowed and effective; I cannot ignore that most people do not want repentance.
In fact, 'not want' is misrepresenting a visceral and invincible opposition to the very idea of repentance and salvation.
My conclusion is that every 'mortal life' is a failure, when judged by the standards of mortal life.
But any life may potentially be a real success - in an eternal perspective.
And that (as of recent decades) there has been an extreme, albeit not complete, opposition between the attempt to succeed in This Life, and the attempt to live well in context of the Life to Come.