Peter Desberg

How Peter Desberg got here…

When I was just a boy working toward my M.A., I was studying Physiological Psychology, now called Neuroscience. There’s a big difference between these two fields. Neuroscience is cool. You get to peer into people’s brains using powerful imaging tools like fMRIs and PET scanners. Back then, we had to cut open rat brains and squint inside. I didn’t like rat surgery so I moved on, but maintained my fascination with what makes rats overeat and become obese…and people too. It began my interest in the Psychology of Self-Control.

By the time I was getting my Ph.D. my interest migrated to Developmental Psycholinguistics. All through my doctoral program I was conducting experiments moonlighting in a Government research lab where your tax dollars paid me to do something I enjoyed.

Once I got my doctorate, I began teaching in the California State University system where they told me “the bad news” about working there. If I wanted to be awarded tenure and become a full professor, I’d have to conduct lots of research and publish it. They must not have read my resume very carefully because I was already three years down that road and loving it.

Three years into my university career I was turning thirty and awoke one morning questioning the arc my life was taking. I was publishing in my two research areas: weight control and children’s literacy acquisition. I forecasted what my life would be like if I became successful in these areas.

I discovered an amazing benefit of working at a university. I could predict my future by observing faculty at different stages of their careers. These colleagues ranged from serious academics to those developing second careers to make additional income. Since they were farther along on their paths, I could look at their decisions and envision how my life would turn out if I made similar choices. So that morning, I lay there in my bed, projecting what my life would be like if I continued down the current path my research was taking me.

If I became successful continuing my research paths, the people I would be surrounded by were not my favorite demographics. When I questioned why I was still doing this research, one reason popped out…momentum. It was easy for me. Not a brilliant rationale for determining the course of a life. That morning, while still in bed, I asked myself what research area would I really enjoy pursuing? That’s when I had an epiphanette!

I jumped out of bed with one word on my lips…humor. That morning I abandoned overweight people and noisy children and dove in. I devoured every book and article I could find on the Psychology of Humor. I enrolled in a comedy writing course and a stand-up class. I began writing kids’ joke books. Amazingly, my first one sold almost 700,000 copies. That should sound pretty impressive…unless you’re good at math. The book sold for $1.00. I split the 6% royalty with my co-author, and we split that meager amount with the cartoonist. I made one and a half pennies per copy. That’s when I determined that writing wouldn’t support my lavish academic life style.

This led to designing a course called Instructional Humor…a course for public speakers learning to use humor to get their point across and make their presentations engaging. Each week students got up to perform their work while demonstrating that the Number One phobia in America truly is Fear of Public Speaking. That kindled my interest in Stage Fright.

During my weight control research days, I wanted to do therapeutic work so I went back and got my Clinical Psychology License. That was fortunate because my license permitted me to work with people who want to manage performance anxiety.

I guess I’m a slow learner. Discovering the rewards of writing hasn’t diminished my enthusiasm. To date I’ve written 23 books. But I did learn something. If you want to succeed in getting a book published, you have to learn to pitch it…

Books By Peter Desberg