I've been using Emacs exclusively for something like five years now, but I still feel like a newbie a lot of the time. Emacs is a big, complex beast. I have a relatively small set of techniques that I rely on for moving around and editing text, and there aren't a lot of major modes that I use, outside of the built in python mode.
One of the things that I've been using for a long time is the excellent emacs-starter-kit. Without this package, I probably would not have stuck with Emacs for very long. So I'm very grateful to technomancy for creating it.
However, in an effort to get better at Emacs, I've decided to move to using my own custom configuration. This is largely so that I can be more aware of which modes I'm using and hence get better at using them. I feel like I'm missing out on a lot of functionality because I'm not really aware of what's available.
I'm also hoping that it will help me pick up elisp, so I can write some custom modes for myself. I've been interested in picking up a lisp for a while, but there are a lot of options and no particular reason for me to pick one over another. But if I pick up elsip, then I'll be more comfortable extending Emacs, and it should make picking up other lisps in the future easier.
I'd still strongly recommend using emacs-starter-kit if you're new to Emacs, it's fantastic for getting a feel for how powerful the editor can be. It's ironic that the point in your Emacs career when you are the least capable of producing a complex and opinionated configuration is the same point at which you would most benefit from one. emacs-starter-kit is a great solution to that dilemna.