Would Amundsen, I wondered, have crossed by balloon if Andrée had not attempted it first? Was Amundsen doing anything but redeeming an earlier failure? Does his story exist as anything other than a shadow of that earlier failure? It’s maybe not the first to succeed that matters, but the first one to attempt—in whose imagination all subsequent attempts, failures and successes, are contained.
From a sublime essay by Colin Dickey “Above The Ice: Grief and Adventure on the Path to the North Pole” in The Paris Review. He’s speaking of polar adventurers, but he could also be speaking of writers, artists, and entrepreneurs.